colony, any nonself-governing territory subject to the jurisdiction of a usually distant country. The term is also applied to a group of nationals who settle in a foreign country or territory but retain political or cultural connections with their parent state. Colonies in the first sense may be colonies of settlement, such as Australia and North and Latin America before they gained independence. There are also colonies of exploitation, which have dense native populations, such as post-conquest Mexico and Peru, the Belgian Congo (now Congo [Kinshasa]), or the British Indian Empire (now India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh). Colonists in a colony of exploitation consist chiefly of military and administrative officers and commercial and financial representatives. The use of slaves and forced labor has often been a feature of such colonies. In a colony of exploitation, the government tends to be highly centralized and is frequently upheld by the presence of a strong police force or army; in a colony of settlement, there is generally rapid evolution from a purely military or autocratic government to autonomy or incorporation within the parent state. Since the 18th cent., colonial problems and their resolution have played a central role in European diplomacy and international relations. Strategic considerations, diplomatic rivalries, and the search for markets all led to a dramatic growth in European colonial holdings in the 19th cent. (see colonization; imperialism). In the late 19th cent., Great Britain began granting autonomy to some of its colonies, ultimately resulting in the transformation of the British Empire into the Commonwealth of Nations. In the 20th cent., many colonial areas came under international supervision through the mandates system, or its successor, the trusteeship system (see trusteeship, territorial). The French empire was progressively dissolved, first with the creation (1946) of the French Union and then with its reorganization (1958) as the French Community. By 1990 most of the former colonies of the Western European powers had become independent nations. Those that had not were, with a few exceptions, relatively small islands or island groups; most were autonomous in internal affairs and remained colonies by choice.
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