The Ambassador in Burma (Key) to the Secretary of State

No. 917

Ref: Dept’s Airgram A 284, May 10; Embassy’s Despatch 687 April 6.1

Subject: Analysis of the Problem of KMT Military Activity in Burma and its Relation to the Communist Threat

There is transmitted herewith a Memorandum prepared by Second Secretary Edwin W. Martin entitled “The Communist Threat to Burma and the KMT Troops Problem”.2 After referring, to the Embassy’s despatch No. 687 of April 6 which deals with the implications of Chinese Communist aid to Burmese Communist insurgents, the Memorandum points out that two comparatively recent developments have intensified the threat to Burma from the Communists. These developments have been 1) the marked increase of Chinese Communist troop strength along the most strategic sector of the Burma border, and 2) the sudden resurgence of KMT military activity in Burma.

With regard to the first development, the conclusion is reached that as a consequence of their military build-up, the Chinese Communists for the first time since they gained control of China are now in a position to launch a substantial striking force into Burmese territory, but that such a move is unlikely unless the Communists feel that general Avar in the Far East is imminent. This conclusion is based on the belief that the Communists prefer to obtain control of Burma through a “liberation campaign” led by native Communist insurgents. The maintenance of substantial Chinese Communist forces on the Burmese border contributes both psychologically and materially to their carrying out of this scheme.

Meanwhile, the revival of KMT military activity on Burmese soil, which revealed that these forces had been considerably augmented and resupplied during their six months of quiescence, greatly alarmed the Government of Burma and tended to increase the Communist threat to this country. Not only did it enhance the psychological value [Page 274] of the Chinese Communist build-up near the border by giving the Communists, in Burmese eyes at least, a good excuse for moving into Burma, but it also served to divert Burmese attention from the more covert activities of the Communists and to increase suspicion of the United States. While the apparent exodus of the large majority of the KMT troops to Yunnan has for the moment greatly abated Burmese tension over the problem, and to this extent has temporarily eased the Communist threat, the continuing inability of the Burmese to protect their borders coupled with the probability that the Chinese Communists will eventually drive many of the KMT troops back into Burma portends renewed tension over this issue.

For this reason several suggestions are put forward in the Memorandum as to steps which the Department might wish to consider taking in the event of another flare-up of KMT military activity in Burma. It is suggested first that positive action be taken to disassociate the U.S. Government from any Americans who may be operating with Chinese troops on Burmese soil. A second suggestion is that should KMT military activity in Burma again become an acute issue the Chinese Government be urged to make a public disavowal of all troops engaged in such activity. The third suggestion is that in case the Government of Burma once more threatens to bring the problem to the U.N., we should refrain from displaying undue anxiety regarding such a proposal but should take the opportunity to discuss the question with Burma and some of her neighbors, such as India and Indonesia, in terms of possible joint action. While neither Burma nor her neighbors would be likely to accept such a solution, its advocacy would, according to the Memorandum, put us in a much stronger propaganda position than we now enjoy and shift the onus for settling the problem from ourselves, where it now rests in Burmese eyes, to Burma and her neutral Asiatic neighbors.

David McK. Key
  1. In despatch 687 from Rangoon, April 6, the Embassy reviewed the Chinese Communists’ plans to grant aid to the Burmese Communist insurgents and analyzed the implications for American policy in Burma (790B.001/4–651). Airgram 284 to Rangoon, May 10, was sent in response to despatch 687, and the Embassy was requested to impress upon the Burmese Government the fact that the United States viewed with alarm the threat imposed by the extension of Chinese Communist aid to the Burmese insurgents. The Embassy, however, was also informed by the Department that it opposed the Burmese plan to bring the KMT troops issue before the United Nations as a means to expose Communist machinations against Burma. (790.001/4–651)
  2. Not printed.