Countless people from the whole maritime region extending from the countries of the Middle East to Lequeos (Ryukyu _present-day Okinawa) came to trade in Southeast Asia. In the first half of the sixteenth century, therefore, this region had assumed the aspect of a vital hub of the global economy. Malacca in particular was already an important center of international trade. The contemporary historian Anthony Reid has even characterized sixteenth century Asia as the _century of commerce._ (Anthony Reid, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce).
Compared with other peoples, the Europeans were relatively late in entering this Southeast Asian trading region, which they called _East India._ In the seventeenth century, European countries such as Britain, Holland, Belgium and Denmark together established the East India Company and embarked on full-scale trade. Southeast Asia naturally had a considerable influence on the formation of modern European society; trade with this region brought in products that became an essential part of life in modern Europe, such as pepper, spices, silk, cotton and various dyes.
Southeast Asia as the Starting Point of Modern World History
Maritime Asia can be divided into two vast oceanic worlds with Southeast Asia as a vital element in both. The first is the oceanic region consisting of Southeast Asia, the East China Sea and the South China Sea. While each of these sea regions is independent, they together form at single dynamic world. The second is the oceanic world consisting of Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Again these regions all have their own independent character, but the interrelationship among them forms a single world. Southeast Asia is an intrinsic part of the dynamism of two oceanic worlds and, in the words of the historian Anthony Reid, experienced an _age of commerce_ in the sixteenth century. The dynamism emanating from Southeast Asia operated in the directions of both East Asia and India / Europe, and the response to this influence played a significant part in the development of the modern state in Japan and Western Europe. Southeast Asia was thus the source of the wave that formed the modern nation-state.
However, although Southeast Asia was the origin of this first wave of modernization, the second wave resulting from it was to have a critical impact on this region.