Mr. Bundy also asked if there is any
way in which we might get closer to Ne
Win and influence him against pursuing “so pro-Chinese a
The attached background paper reflects the Department’s opinion that
Ne Win is following a course that
is not particularly pro-Chinese by Burmese standards. Although his policies
are not very helpful I see little to be done that we are not already doing,
to influence the situation directly.
In view of the psychological bent of the Burmese we are limited to indirect
means to influence the direction of Burmese policies and improve relations
with the Ne Win regime.
In our indirect efforts, we are seeking to enlist the help of non-Communist
Asian nations. For example, we have tried to encourage Thailand to work with
Burma to eliminate potential difficulties over Chinese Irregular troops
still in the area. Also, we are suggesting that Souvanna and the Indian Government help promote Burmese
understanding of the Laos problem.
The following observations lead to the conclusion, expressed in the
covering memorandum, that the Ne
Win regime is not, in fact, particularly pro-Chinese, and
that we are doing everything we can to improve relations between
Ne Win and ourselves.
Neutralism—Burma’s neutralism is deeply ingrained.
It is derived from the anti-colonial tradition, reinforced by a lack of
self-confidence in Burma’s ability to deal with the outside world. The
Burmese would like to go about their business with as little foreign
involvement as possible.
Attitude Toward Communist China—Ne Win’s attitude toward Communist
China is about the same as that of previous Burmese Governments. It is
based upon an overriding sense of vulnerability to Chinese power and
reflects the conclusion of most Burmese that the only defense is to
avoid provocation and to cultivate Peking’s good will.
However, this does not mean subservience to Chinese influence. Burma
continues to show a degree of independence, especially where China-Burma
relations are not directly involved. For example, Burma under Ne Win has not subscribed to the
Chinese position on the Sino–Indian border dispute or on the Laos
In domestic policies, also, Ne Win
is going his own way. The influence of Marxism-Leninism is evident in
his domestic program, which he calls “The Burmese Way to Socialism”, but
it does not seem to be inspired particularly by Communist China.
Moreover, Ne Win continues to
fight Communist insurgents and to deny aboveground Communist groups any
participation in his Government.
Ideological Danger—There is a danger, of course,
that the Ne Win Government’s
socialist ideology may cause it to look more to Communist countries,
including Communist China, for advice, assistance and inspiration at the
expense of the West. Offsetting this is Ne
Win’s aversion to foreign influence and fear of Chinese
domination, and also Burmese public opinion.
Xenophobia—Xenophobia is an important ingredient
in Burmese foreign policy and is an important source of our difficulties
in Burma. It was a major reason for Ne
Win’s decision to eliminate the Ford and Asia Foundations
and to curtail the Fulbright Program. This is an attitude deeply rooted
in Burmese national psychology. It is directed at all foreign countries,
though it has been displayed most dramatically in relations [Page 120] with the United States. This
is partly because the United States “presence” in Burma has been bigger
and, therefore, from the xenophobic point of view, more objectionable
than that of other countries. Also, in dealing with the United States,
Ne Win is not restrained by
the fear that inhibits him in dealing with Communist China.
Internal Stability—A potential threat to Burmese
neutrality has always been posed by recurring political instability in
the country, and this danger exists today. Ne Win’s domestic policies have aroused considerable
opposition which, if unchecked, could produce serious unrest. Out of
this could come an opportunity for the Communists to seize power.
However, our hope is that opposition forces of moderation will develop
in an orderly manner and, ultimately, either force the Ne Win Government into more moderate
channels or displace it without a civil war which the Communists could
What the United States Can Do—Although important
United States interests are not directly threatened just now, we
continue to view Burma with concern and to seek means of improving our
relations with it. Unfortunately, possibilities for influencing the
situation are limited. Because of Ne
Win’s hypersensitive attitude toward United States
influence, the present does not appear to be propitious for attempting
any new direct approaches to him. Also, we must take into account the
growing domestic opposition to Ne
Win’s policies and avoid actions aimed at getting closer
to him which might have the side effect of discouraging opposition
elements who favor principles more congenial to the United States than
does Ne Win.