53. Telegram From the Consulate General in Geneva to the Department of State0

72. From Harriman.1 I believe Ambassador Everton’s suggestion that I go to Vienna to see Ne Win proved unusually useful. I had two hour talk with him alone before dinner July 17 and then long relaxed conversation during dinner, at which Mrs. Ne Win, her doctor brother, LtCol Bo Iwin, head of intelligence, and Chargé Porter were also present.

Ne Win responded warmly when I explained that President Kennedy’s policies regarding value and rights of neutrals were quite different from those of Dulles. He said he had respect for position President Kennedy had taken and hoped he would not misunderstand his having declined an invitation go to Washington because of inability to leave Burma, and now learning of his presence Vienna.

He spoke frankly that purpose his visit was his wife’s [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] health. She needed treatments Vienna and his presence would be of assistance. He had found that situation in Burma was quieting down, so it was possible for him to leave. [1–1/2 lines of source text not declassified] When I asked about his own health, he said he was going to take advantage his presence Vienna to have his sinuses treated, but that this had no connection with purpose his visit.

At dinner, Mrs. Ne Win [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] entered the conversation freely, always in agreement with her husband, but sometimes taking initiative. In contradiction to previous reports, she did not show pro-ChiCom bias.

In private conversation, when I expressed surprise at violence of treatment of students, he explained actions had been necessary. Communists were dominating university, and previous appeasement similar incidents had simply entrenched them. They held student center as a fortress, which police could not storm. They had small group of Communists in each hostel who dominated and terrorized other students. Many Communists remained on, flunking exams and pretending to continue work. Their real purpose was organization of student body. When university was reopened, he would prevent such students further attendance. He said that, except for Communists, he believed Burmese public opinion would eventually understand why this vigorous action was necessary.

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He condemned U Nu timidity and indecision, not only in connection with student matters, but in all others.

When I asked him why he had retained control of govt for so short a period last time he took over, he said he now knew it was mistake. This time he would have to retain power four or five years to achieve his objectives. His general purpose was to unify country, get rid of graft, establish new constitution designed to create social and economic order that suited the Burmese (Burmese socialism). It was ridiculous to talk about Burmese capitalists because there were none. If larger industries were owned privately, they would be controlled by foreigners. He said he was not going to follow Chinese example. He appeared to consider some of Israeli experience of value. He could not accept the kibbutz, but felt newer type of cooperative farming, in which each family had individual homes, was more in tune with Burmese ideas, although he did not indicate he intended to take away from private holdings.

We had long discussion both alone and at dinner about Red China’s economic collapse, during which he indicated he could not tell how much agricultural disaster was due to three years of bad weather, and how much to bad organization. This gave me good chance to expound on Communist failure to produce food anywhere, including Soviet Union. He took no exception to any of this criticism. He commented that farmers needed incentives, particularly important for Burma with eighty percent of population farmers.

He expressed respect for very high rice production in Japan, but did not know anything about similar achievements in Taiwan. He said Japan produces per acre over 10 times as much as Burma. I said I understood it was three times, but he stuck to his figure.

He had great deal to say in criticism of past operations of [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] ICA, mentioning certain individuals by name. He maintained they [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] had attempted to corrupt Burmese officials. He underlined particularly telephone deal, in which he claimed Burma only got sixty percent of what was paid for. American companies also had attempted to corrupt Burmese. He said he did not consider Ford as bad as the Asia Foundation, but he was suspicious of all foreign agencies operating in the country as attempting to work for foreign objectives not Burmese.

He expressed some feeling over manner in which he was treated in Washington by Pentagon, particularly presentation of decoration without prior consultation. He said he was embarrassed as he did not want to receive it and yet felt he could not refuse it.

He said he had good reaction to Ambassador Everton. He expressed doubts about James Barrington. I understood him to say he trusted his Ambassador in Washington as well as his Lao conference delegate Myat Tun.

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Both he and his wife expressed great respect and affection for Malcolm MacDonald. They both agreed that if they had to have been under colonial rule, they were lucky that it was British.

In 1952, Philip Jessup had refused to accept his appraisal of situation in Viet-Nam that the French were through. Ne Win had told him this in Rangoon both before he went to Saigon and after.

Sihanouk he classified as impractical and erratic, but agreed that it was fortunate that a man of force was in control in Cambodia who kept Communists down. He said Sihanouk had the impractical idea of some sort of union between Cambodia, Laos and Burma.

He agreed that South Vietnamese would fight guerillas, but I did not explore further his views on present Viet-Nam situation. He applauded President Kennedy’s position in regard to Laos and when I assured him that we intended continue political and economic aid, he expressed satisfaction. He said Souvanna would respond to pressures and present pressures were to the left. I asked him to work with us to see that Souvanna came back to the center, to which he agreed.

He is suspicious of Sarit and suspects Thais of encouragement to Shan states. However, he expressed confidence in the liking for Thanat. (This ties in with Thanat’s statement re disadvantages of SEATO in development of more friendly relations with neutral nations such as Burma.)

When I asked him about General Phoumi’s visit, he said that Phoumi had contradicted himself, first maintaining he had US support and then shrugging his shoulders when Ne Win asked him why US aid had been cut off. Win had given Phoumi no encouragement.

He spoke at some length about Burmese history. He expressed respect for Roosevelt’s influence on change in British postwar colonial policies, regretted Roosevelt’s plan of not returning Indochina to France had been ignored.

He expressed admiration for President Kennedy’s objectives, and although he believed Cuba had been a mistake, volunteered that he understood difficulty of stopping an operation of that kind when it had once been started by previous administration.

He said US had certainly lost good will during EisenhowerDulles era, that we had been as self-seeking as the Russians but expressed confidence that under Kennedy we would regain confidence of world opinion.

In discussing Southeast Asia, I underlined President Kennedy’s desire for peace. We were encouraged by the progress in South Viet-Nam although it would take some time. He commented that of course Burma was vitally interested in events in all of Southeast Asia.

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Ne Win was relaxed, accepted me as a friend. He made it plain that Burma wanted to go her own way, without interference by either East or West. In discussing “power corrupts” he underlined that he had great ambitions for his country, but none for himself.

He expressed desire to visit US at some time when it was convenient, but would prefer to come as informally as possible.

All in all, I believe conversation was well worthwhile. I did not attempt to prod him for intelligence, but discussed subjects which appeared to be on his mind.

I am glad to say that so far no press comment has appeared of my visit, which I believe Ne Win prefers.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 790B.13/7–1862. Confidential; Priority; Limit Distribution. Repeated priority to Rangoon, to London, Moscow, Phnom Penh, Saigon, Taipei, and Hong Kong.
  2. Harriman was in Geneva as head of the delegation to the Conference on Laos.