Memorandum of Conversation, by the Ambassador at Large (Jessup)2


Memorandum of Conversation With Prime Minister Thakin Nu—February 8, 1950—Rangoon

Participants: Thakin Nu—Prime Minister of Burma
Philip C. Jessup—Ambassador at Large
William M. Gibson

The Prime Minister, after introductory remarks, asked questions concerning Formosa and Vietnam. The Ambassador replied in general terms and then asked the Prime Minister whether he was encouraged about conditions in Burma today. “They are very much improved over a year ago,” he answered, “when it was my candid opinion that the Burmese Union would go to pieces.” Conditions had improved to the extent that he was about to undertake a trip to a northern province which had only just been liberated from the Karens who had held it almost continuously since the granting of independence. One third of the province is still in Karen hands, but the Prime Minister feels they are “bottled up.”

In answer to Ambassador Jessup’s questions about economic affairs, the Prime Minister admitted that normal trade was at a standstill because of the war. Rice exports which he claimed had totaled five million tons per year in normal times would only amount to one million tons this year. 1,500,000 tons were exported last year. (Note: these figures do not agree with those furnished from other official sources and are in each instance from 200,000 to 500,000 tons too high.) The Prime Minister expressed confidence over the work of the Rice Commission and told of how impressed he had been with an exhibition of an American tractor which could sow one acre of rice in ten minutes. He felt that the ancient Oriental system of wooden plows and manual labor would have to be replaced by modern methods.

The Ambassador asked about conditions on the northern frontier and was told that as yet no Chinese Communists had formally violated [Page 230] the Burmese territory. “They are now paying attention to Indochina,” the Prime Minister stated, “but will probably come in later.” Ambassador Jessup asked whether Nationalist troops had sought refuge in Burma as they had in Indochina and was told they had not but there were some still unaccounted for who might. The Prime Minister recounted how he had at one time recently been approached to meet some “Chinese Communist leaders” and after declining had found out that they were in fact local Chinese opportunists passing themselves as communists in order to ingratiate themselves with Peking and get on the bandwagon. The populace in the region concerned became panicky and the Prime Minister was obliged to send a “company of troops” to give the people reassurance. The single company had in fact done just that, he claimed. The Ambassador asked whether there were any communist groups at the frontier. There were not many, the Prime Minister replied explaining that he did not believe they would take the form of identifiable soldiers but would rather infiltrate gradually in the classic fifth column manner. A well-known Burmese Communist was known to have been in Peking recently in an official status. It was not known whether he had returned to Burma.

The Ambassador asked whether the Burmese Government had had any recent messages from Peking regarding recognition. They had not and the Prime Minister explained that as Peking had replied to Burma’s offer of recognition in such an arrogant manner the Burmese had chosen to ignore their message. There had been no messages since. (Note: This conflicts with the Foreign Minister’s comment that a second “all honey” message had been received.3) He further stated there, had as yet been no trouble with Chinese minorities in Burma. There were stated to be 40,000 Chinese in Rangoon. They are more aggressive than the Chinese in Thailand and maintain their ties with China to the full and never become citizens.

Ambassador Jessup inquired whether a peace settlement with the Karens would result in the automatic resolution of other pressing problems. The Prime Minister felt that all other problems were minor in comparison, and that if peace were restored they could all be solved in a short time. Ambassador Jessup asked if the solution was purely a military one. The Prime Minister replied that it was, but that he was nevertheless insisting that legitimate Karen demands be met. His task was a difficult one for he had the Burmese public, strongly anti-Karen, to account to as well. He had strong opposition in the people, some of whom were convinced that as long as he was around bloodshed would continue. The Prime Minister felt that his primary duty to Burma was to convince the people that without national solidarity [Page 231] they would never maintain true independence. He referred to his speeches on this subject, copies of which were furnished.

The Ambassador asked whether there was any current interest in Burma in the question of a Southeast Asian Union. The Prime Minister referred to the earlier Pakistan–Ceylon–India–Burma Union which the Burmese had been enthusiastic about, restricted as it was to four members. Pandit Nehru, however, felt that it would be grossly misunderstood and would antagonize Russia. The idea was therefore abandoned. The Prime Minister enlarged on this point stating that his Government felt that “China was too big to become a satellite of Russia.” It was his conviction and that of his Government that any agreements which might be misunderstood by the Chinese as any form of alignment against her should be studiously avoided.

Ambassador Jessup asked about the Philippines. The Prime Minister replied that they had, frankly, acted in a slipshod manner and only in conjunction with Chiang Kai-shek before consulting any other Southeast Asian nations involved. The Prime Minister explained that the Gimo was very unpopular with Burmese leaders. They considered his government a very corrupt one, and hence any move for Burma to join an association in which he took part would be misunderstood and very unpopular.4

The Prime Minister asked whether the Ambassador knew Nehru. In replying the Ambassador mentioned among other things that he had formed an impression from the press that the Commonwealth was very anxious to be of assistance to Southeast Asia. Is this true? The Prime Minister replied that he hadn’t yet been fully informed but was sure the matter was under consideration.

“Will peace solve all your problems?” Ambassador Jessup asked. It would to a large extent but not without foreign advice and help following the restoration of peace. The Ambassador observed that heretofore Burma had not welcomed foreign capital. Were they prepared to do so now? The Prime Minister replied that they were; that their past disinclination was the result of many years of foreign exploitation. Now as an independent country they could afford to accept foreign capital but would have to move slowly and had no intention of doing otherwise. Ambassador Jessup asked if this meant that the time was approaching “in the near future” when foreign capital would be accepted. The answer was yes.

In answer to the Ambassador’s request that the Prime Minister leave with him any thoughts which he wished to have transmitted to Washington, he stated that it was his impression that the United States was genuinely interested in the rehabilitation of Southeast Asia and that only outside aid would solve SEA problems after the restoration [Page 232] of peace. “If you wish to give a thought to this when you get home and present it to your Government, you will be doing us a great service.” Ambassador Jessup replied that any assistance would have to be tied in with the United Nations and such aid as might be forthcoming from the Commonwealth. He explained that Point Four was not yet law and would be entirely dependent upon Congressional appropriations.5 He mentioned the anticipated participation of private capital.

Finally, the Prime Minister expressed a hope that a Burmese Commission, primarily concerned with financial affairs, would soon be able to visit the United States. Ambassador Jessup indicated that his Government would be pleased to receive such a request and trusted the Prime Minister would specify the exact functions of the Commission, its membership, etc.

Philip C. Jessup
  1. For further documentation on Ambassador Jessup’s tour of the Far East, see p. 68.
  2. A memorandum of Ambassador Jessup’s conversation with Foreign Minister Sao Hkun Hkio on February 9 together with other materials relating to his stay at Rangoon is in file 611.90B/2–850.
  3. For further documentation on the attempts to form a Pacific Pact, see pp. 1 ff.
  4. Further documentation on the Point Four Program is scheduled for publication in volume i.