Countries that never were colonized

Not all non-European countries were colonized by the Europeans, not even at the height of Europe’s power. Which countries were these and why did they preserve their independence?

First of all we have the ancient empires of Asia — Persia, China and Japan. They were far too big and far too far away for the Europeans to control. But this does not mean that the Europeans did not meddle in their affairs in various ways. China was something of a “semi-colony” and Japan was forced to accept humiliating treaties. India could of course have been included in this group but the country was not strong and unified enough.

In addition we have countries such as Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan which best are described as “buffer states.” That is, they were left as cushions between empires — or, to be precise, between British and Russia. The Afghans defended themselves ferociously in no fewer than three Anglo-Afghan wars, and in the end Britain decided it was easier to leave them alone.

A third group includes Ethiopia and Thailand. Both were established monarchies and the kings in question were very skillful in appealing to the international community for support. In addition, they were good at organizing their own bureaucracies. Basically, they colonized their own countries using administrative methods which were very close to those employed by the Europeans. Ethiopia, however, was militarily occupied by Italy between 1935 and 1941.

Then there is Liberia in West Africa which was established by the American Colonization Society, an American charity, as a place to which former slaves could be repatriated. It was not a colony, but not really an independent country either. In addition there were states which now are independent — such as Korea, Taiwan and Mongolia — which were colonized but not by Europeans.

The final case is the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans were not colonized by the Europeans, indeed they were themselves a part of the European system of state. They were also a large and ancient empire, although in the nineteenth-century it was shrinking precipitously.

On the other hand, we might question what colonization really means. Not all countries that were formally colonized were actually controlled by the Europeans. In many cases, they only had control over the capital, the ports, a strategic border and their own economic investments. “Independence” is a relative concept, but so is “colonization.”

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