Published online by Cambridge University Press: 29 September 2020
The history of Dutch trade and colonisation in the Atlantic region is not really a subject that appeals greatly to the imagination. The only place where it was possible to show what a small country was capable of was in Asia. And what it was capable of was primarily trade, since major colonial conquests were not feasible there at that time: they were too expensive, not economically viable and almost impossible to achieve because of the high mortality rate of Europeans in the tropics or the dominance of their Asian adversaries. All these limitations confirmed to the Dutch that in Asia they had to concentrate on what they were good at, and that was doing business. Colonisation was something they barely engaged in, and if they did – such as in Taiwan or Ceylon – it did not entail any large-scale migration by European colonists. This policy had been successful for a long time, although the Dutch were not the only nation whose trading activities connected the different Asian regions with one another and with Europe. In Asia, the Dutch faced competition not only from Arab, Chinese and Indian traders, but also from merchants from Portugal, England and France, the last of whom were also actively trading between Europe and Asia.