63. Telegram From the Embassy in Burma to the Department of State 0
286. CINCPAC for POLAD. After one month in Burma regret that I cannot give other than pessimistic report on state of our relations. I find the US with many sincere friends throughout Burma but these people, with few exceptions, have little or no voice with the present Government of Burma. My experience here is of course still limited. I have only established initial contacts with Ne Win and about three-fourths of his Cabinet. These experiences have been friendly in a personal sort of way, but in the case of several key individuals at least one is left with impression that these are really courtesies; that the government group feels they have really nothing of importance to discuss with us and some apprehension over being very close to us. One gets the feeling that they don’t consider the US really very important in their own limited horizon, and that we are in a way discounted as a factor here.
Our areas of mutual interests with this government, outside of the vital matter of maintaining Burma’s independence, are in fact probably quite limited.
Set upon a course of “Burmanization” to exclude previous forms of Western influence and exploitation, they are not about to seek or listen to advice upon development their economy or social structure. They feel they have the resources to do it their own way without undue hardship and would rather try. The intense Burmanization process plus long-held socialistic ideology is leading them in a direction so akin to Communism that, should present trends continue, the day may well come when to distinguish between “the Burmese way to socialism” and Communism, as far as internal forms of economic and political organization are concerned, will become virtually meaningless. Whether such a body could conduct an independent foreign policy serving both Burmese and free world interests is certainly to be doubted.
And yet, as of today, I believe there are still areas where our basic interests coincide. I also believe that we must try to identify these areas more precisely than we have heretofore and then set about working on them with a great deal more energy. More complete analysis of this situation will follow as we become more sure of our ground and can devise recommendations for our future courses of action.
In the meantime we have a problem that I believe requires immediate attention. There seems little doubt that the US position here has been [Page 140] systematically undermined by the planting of malicious misinformation. The actual agents for spreading these stories are almost certainly Burmese elements of leftist tendencies either directly in the government or advisers to the government. Whether they are inspired on their own or some ChiCom influence is brought to bear is not, as of now at least, known.
I believe that, in general, we have not taken adequate cognizance of this situation. I fear our lack of reaction is either taken to be ignorance on our part of what is happening here, impotence to react, or indifference to such an extent that we believe nothing that happens in Burma could really interest us.
In the last two days I have had reports that Ne Win was furious over an alleged infringement of ours on the government’s labor policy in connection with upcoming construction of road project from Rangoon north toward Mandalay. The inference supposedly was that we were either trying to circumvent the govt’s labor policy because we didn’t like it, or to use systems of our own to make possible kickbacks for personal profit.
This is so obviously a planted story that I have decided to react as quickly as possible. Accordingly I have asked for an appointment to deliver a letter setting the record straight personally to the Foreign Minister and plan to request that he give copy to Ne Win. The letter also suggests a complete investigation and offers our assistance and cooperation in any such investigation. The text is being pouched separately.
This case itself is of course a minor thing, but if the General is as upset as reported one can’t be sure of his reaction. I feel we must attempt to set the record straight as it seems a series of things of this type have left us nearly impotent here and we should at least try to reverse the trend. If we show a sufficient degree of interest and concern to regain Ne Win’s confidence on current matters we may perhaps be able to move from there to a more constructive relationship in the future.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 BURMA–US. Secret; Priority. Repeated to CINCPAC, Bangkok, New Delhi, and Hong Kong.↩