This is part of an irregular series of posts about the larger world of Newshound, expanding on certain aspects of the worldbuilding that might not be examined as closely in-story. It is, essentially, a snippet of my worldbuilding notes, heavily edited for readability and spoilers.
In this installment of Newshound Notes, we’re going to be examining the geopolitics of Southeast Asia. For our purposes, this roughly corresponds to the region east of India and south of China, historically known as Indochina, as well as the Malay Archipelago. We’ll mostly be focusing on events in the 20th century, since that’s when most of the noticeable divergences occur. While not every divergence from history can or will be covered, it should generally be assumed that events unfolded the same or similarly until/unless stated otherwise (or if it can be assumed to be otherwise from common sense).
Anyways, let’s begin.
In 1902, the Philippine-American War ends, reaffirming US control over the Philippines, which was originally provided in the 1898 Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War. While the Philippines are initially given a limited degree of self-rule, President Roosevelt announces his intention to eventually add the islands to the US as a state. This culminates in the passage of the Philippine Statehood Act in 1917, providing for the admission of the Philippines as a state following the drafting and approval of a state constitution. Philippine nationalists delay statehood for nearly 30 years by blocking the drafting of any state constitution to submit to Congress. However, following the conclusion of World War 2 and the liberation of the Philippines from Japanese occupation, public opinion within the Philippines shifts. A state constitution is drafted, submitted, and approved by Congress, leading to the admission of the Philippines as the 51st state in 1947.
(The admission of the Philippines helps motivate statehood movements in other US territories, eventually leading to the admission of Alaska, Hawaii, Mariana, and Puerto Rico over the next two decades.)
In Indochina, the end of World War 2 leaves the status of the region in question. Viet Minh nationalists, armed with weapons taken from – or in some cases given to them by – exiting Japanese troops, declare an independent Vietnamese government based in Hanoi. However, the Republic of China soon occupies Indochina as far south as the 16th parallel in order to supervise the surrender and disarmament of Japanese occupation forces, ending, for the moment, the Viet Minh government in Hanoi. Shortly after this, forces of the French Provisional Government arrive, seeking to restore French control over the region – over the protests of the United States.
Hostilities soon break out between French forces and Viet Minh nationalists, resulting in the First Indochina War. Following the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, China begins supplying the Viet Minh with material aid. Despite French requests for assistance, the US refuses to intervene (a point of contention that contributes to French skepticism of America and which will eventually lead to the failure of NATO). In an effort to retain the goodwill of its remaining colonies in Indochina, which is necessary for the continuation of the war, France grants more and more concessions to Laos and Cambodia, eventually resulting in the independence of Laos in 1950 and Cambodia in 1953. While nominally independent, both states continue to remain under French dominance, effectively becoming satellite states.
The war ends in 1953 with a complete French withdrawal from Indochina and the recognition of Vietnam as an independent state. As the French pull out of the region, the Soviet Union – reacting to growing tensions with China from the Sino-Soviet split caused by the accession of Khrushchev in 1953, and seeking to regain a measure of the global hegemony lost by the establishment of a Yugoslavian communist bloc in the Balkans after the Soviet-Yugoslav split – begins tacitly supplying aid to Laos and Cambodia as a hedge against Chinese hegemony.
Hostilities resume in 1962, when Ho Chi Minh severs ties with the People’s Republic of China and declares Vietnamese neutrality. In response, China invades the country and installs a puppet government, prompting international condemnation. Over the next two decades, Vietnamese insurgents – backed by material aid from the Soviet Union – fight to retake control from the Chinese. The conflict eventually spills-over into neighboring Cambodia, when Chinese-backed insurgents launch a civil war there in 1968, which lasts until 1975, ending in an insurgent victory. A similar insurgency occurs in Thailand, lasting from 1965 until 1983, but ends with the victory of Thai royalist forces. Throughout all this, the United States remains neutral.
In 1978, a peace agreement is brokered between Vietnamese nationalists and China, resulting in the partitioning of Vietnam into Chinese-backed North Vietnam and Soviet-aligned South Vietnam. The uneasy peace established by this lasts until 2001, when Cambodia and North Vietnam launch an invasion of South Vietnam, prompting retaliation by Thailand and Laos, and plunging the region into factional warfare once again.
In an effort to contain the violence, an international coalition led by India institutes a no fly zone over the region. (Although India’s overt support for independence fighters in nearby Tibet makes it clear that this is an anti-China coalition, a fact that is only made more apparent when the Soviet Union joins.) The United States enters the conflict in 2005, joining the coalition in enforcing the no fly zone and running minesweeping patrols in the South China Sea.
As of 2017, low-level guerrilla warfare continues throughout Vietnam, Cambodia, and parts of Laos. Efforts towards a peace agreement or armistice, brokered by France, have stalled, and talk of escalation to a ground invasion by coalition countries is rife.