Southeast Asia Timeline, 1960-75



Burma, independent from Britain 1948
Thailand (Siam), not colonized
Laos, independent from France 1954
Cambodia, independent from France 1954
Malaysia, independent from Britain 1957
Indonesia, independent from the Dutch 1945
Philippines, independent from the United States, 1946 (July 4)
New Zealand



  • A conference held at Geneva ends French involvement in Southeast Asia by creating three successor states to Indochina, North & South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.


  • Most states of Southeast Asia declare themselves neutral (“non-aligned”) in the Cold War at the Bandung Conference in Indonesia, along with several others such as India and Egypt.




  • Twelve-year Malayan emergency caused by insurgent communists declared over with British expertise.
  • Prince Norodom Sihanouk rules Cambodia which he has done since independence in 1954. Anti-communist, one-party rule, favors state intervention in the form of what is called “Buddhist Socialism;” ruled to 1970.
  • Fighting breaks out in Laos between the Royal Lao Army and the Pathet Lao communists (talked about by Kennedy and Khrushchev in Vienna 1961).
  • Indonesia breaks relations with its former colonial master, the Netherlands; begins aggressive foreign policy with communist leanings. Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president (1957-1967), disbands Parliament, reconstitutes legislature with handpicked members.
  • The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) established at Los Banos, Laguna, the Philippines; becomes a center for agriculture science with the “Green Revolution” in Asia; today developing “Golden Rice” to combat vitamin A deficiencies.
  • Canberra continues to dilute its immigration program of the late 1940s to keep Australia an outpost of the British race with a “Populate or Perish” orientation. Large numbers of Jews welcomed for the first time, and migrants from eastern and southern Europe, including Yugoslavia.
  • Tsunami hits New Zealand and the Philippines in the wake of the most powerful earthquake ever recorded – in southern Chile – that registered 9.5 on the Richter scale.


  • Soviet financial and military aid channeled to Laos; becomes one of the reasons for the formulation of the idea of “flexible response” as a military doctrine during the Kennedy years.
  • Malaya’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman (1957-70), floats the idea of forming a Greater Malaya.
  • Indonesia forms state-owned oil company, Pertimina; joins OPEC the following year.
  • Australia’s largest infrastructure/engineering project  – the Snowy Mountains Scheme – hits its stride to provide energy to the states of New South Wales, Victoria, and the Canberra Capital Territory.


  • Burma made unitary state by the army (March); dissolves all political structures erected since independence; declares “Burmese Way to Socialism.”
  • Shan, Kachins, and Karen ethic groups within Burma begin insurgencies for autonomy. Shan State in western Burma forms one corner of the “Golden Triangle” (CIA designation), the richest opium-growing region in the world after Afghanistan.
  • A former schoolteacher named Saloth Sar became secretary of the Cambodian communist party and would call himself Pol Pot when the party and the Khmer Rouge took power in 1976 with genocidal fury.
  • Indonesia secures West Irian from the Dutch after a military confrontation (New York Agreement, Bunker Plan, August)


  • The “Burmese Way to Socialism” begins exchanging grow, development, and freedom for stability; changes Burma from one of Asia’s most prosperous countries to one of the world’s most closed and poor ones; becomes Southeast Asia’s version of the hermit kingdom of North Korea.
  • With communist insurgencies in Laos, the Kingdom of Thailand makes defense agreements with the United States, and benefits from being a rear-area destination for American servicemen on leave from Vietnam. Population of the capital city, Bangkok, doubles between 1960 and 1975.
  • Thailand starts military ten-year military anti-communist, pro-American dictatorship under Field Marshall Thanom Kittikachorn (to 1973).
  • Malaya becomes the Greater Malaysian Union or simply “Malaysia” with the addition of Northern Borneo (Sabah), Sarawak, and Singapore. The Philippines and Indonesia threaten to “crush Malaysia”; requires the mobilization of British, Australian, and Malaysian troops for three years just as Vietnam was preoccupying the United States.


  • Chaing Mai University founded in northern Thailand.
  • Laos becomes a parallel theater of war to Vietnam until 1968.
  • Race riots in Malaysia (July & September) between Chinese and Malays.


  • Cambodia’s Prince Sihanouk breaks diplomatic ties with the United States (restored in 1969).
  • Tunku Rahman solves Malaysia’s “Chinese problem” by separating from it: creates Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew assumes leadership.
  • Indonesia experiences hyperinflation; reduced export earnings, deteriorating infrastructure; withdraws from the United Nations, World Bank & IMF; Sukarno influenced by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI); American movies and journalists banned; continues work on nuclear program with China, which exploded its first atomic bomb in 1964.
  • PKI violently purged in Indonesia.
  • Ferdinand Marcos becomes president of the Philippines on a platform of “Rice and Roads,” succeeding Diosdado Macapagal (1957-65) who had propelled the country to 5-6% growth rates by policies supporting free and private enterprise, attracting much foreign capital and multinationals.


  • Khon Kaen University founded in northeastern Thailand.
  • Malaysia begins its first “Five-year Plan”; becomes a major timber and palm oil producer, and later natural gas.
  • Immigration in Australia effectively wide-open when non-European migrants seeking freedom from a turbulent Asia seek freedom and opportunity.
  • Sir Robert Menzies (1949-1966) ends his remarkable and staunchly pro-British and pro-American premiership, including support for the United States in Vietnam. Policies continued by successor Harold Holt (1966-1967), who won a landslide victory on a platform of strength that committed Australia in Southeast Asia with the theme “All the way with LBJ!”
  • Australia change from the pound to the decimal system of dollars and cents (Australian dollar)


  • Sukarno relieved of command by his own army; Indonesia on edge of famine.
  • The formation of ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to contain communism and to attack poverty, disease, and social ills; announced in Bangkok (August 8) by the five founding members: Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaysia.
  • Prime Minister Harold Holt dies precipitously; Australia has four leaders, 1967-75.
  • Australians amend their constitution so its aboriginal peoples could vote.


  • 46-year old General T.N.J. Suharto becomes Indonesia’s second president, rules seven terms to 1998; starts program of reform called “The New Order” that stabilized the country; abandons nuclear ambitions, turns toward US,
  • New constitution in Thailand.


  • Race riots between ethnic Malays, Chinese, and Indians after the Malaysian general elections in May spark a state of emergency and a suspension of Parliament.
  • Marcos reelected in the Philippines.
  • First Australian railroad with a uniform gauge completed, Perth to Sydney.
  • Australia peaks in immigrants after WWII with 185,000, increasing the population to 12 million (up from roughly 7 million in 1945).


  • Cambodian National Assembly removes Sihanouk as head of state while he was abroad for his authoritarianism and for his allowance of North Vietnamese units to operate within the Cambodian countryside. Assembly changes country’s name to the Khmer Republic with Lon Nol as President until 1975.
  • Tunku Rahman resigns leadership in the wake of the May 13, 1969 riots; Tun Razak succeeds as Malaysia’s second prime minister until 1976.
  • Sukarno dies in detention at Jakarta Army Hospital.
  • The Five Power Defense Arrangement signed by Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain for mutual military cooperation.


  • Malaysia adopts its New Economic Policy to spur economic growth; creates constitutional protections for Malays, including Malay as an official language, Islam as the national religion; institutionalizes preferences for Malays, natives of Saba and Sarawak (“bumiputras”) in such areas as academic scholarships, mortgages, and business permits.
  • Indonesia begins 7-10% GDP annual growth rates involving manufacturing, mining, cement, oil, cigarettes that transformed the country by 1993 into an “East Asian Miracle” (World Bank).


  • Filipino president Marcos declares martial law which lasted for a decade, claims subversion by Maoist communists. Marcos gives new prominence to the army, asserts what he calls “constitutional authoritarianism” to silence political opposition; with borrowing binge, economy falters in the late 1970s.
  • Snowy Mountains Scheme complete in Australia. Used the country’s first transistor-powered computer in its design and construction.


  • Paris Peace Accords establish an independent Laos.
  • Pathet Lao does not stand down; gradual erosion of non-communist power, the eclipse of the Laotian monarchy continues.
  • The UK enters the European Common Market; Australia loses privileged trade status with the Commonwealth sterling area.
  • The Opera House – under construction since 1958 – opens in Sydney, Australia.


  • New constitution in Thailand.
  • Socialist People’s Republic of Burma inaugurated.


  • The Kingdom of Laos vanishes (December); government in the capital Vientiane slides to one-party communist control with a 25-year treaty of friendship with Hanoi, making Laos a North Vietnamese client. Laotians by the thousands “re-educated” in camps; thousands more resettled to cities in the United States.
  • Australia passes legislation that prohibits race from immigration criteria.
  • Saigon falls to North Vietnamese forces (April); Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh and second city, Battambang, fall to a faction of the country’s communist party called the Khmer Rouge that same spring; Pol Pot and his followers seize power the following year, change Cambodia’s name to the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea and imposed a furious Mao-inspired genocide on the Cambodian people.

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