By the mid-1800s, leaders throughout Southeast Asia faced the growing threat of Western imperialism. Before long, Western industrial powers divided up the region in their race for raw materials, new markets, and Christian converts.
The headquarters of the Dutch East India Company was called Batavia Castle. It was located in present-day Jakarta. The East India Company built trading and military bases throughout the Spice Islands.
Southeast Asia commands the sea lanes between India and China. The region had long been influenced by both civilizations. In the 1500s and 1600s, European merchants gained footholds in Southeast Asia, but most of the peoples of the region remained independent.
When the Industrial Revolution set off the Age of Imperialism, the situation changed. Western powers, especially the Dutch, British, and French, used modern armies and technology to colonize much of Southeast Asia.
In the 1600s, the Dutch East India Company gained control of the fabled riches of the Moluccas, or Spice Islands. The Dutch then reached out to dominate the rest of the East Indies—what is now Indonesia. The region included larger islands, such as Java, Sumatra, and Borneo, as well as many smaller islands.
By 1800, the Dutch government had taken over these areas from the Dutch East India Company. During the next century, the Dutch faced uprisings, but they gradually extended their control. Like other imperialist powers, the Dutch expected their Southeast Asia colonies to produce profitable crops of coffee, indigo, and spices.