101. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Johnson1
- Your Meetings with General Ne Win, Chairman of the Revolutionary Council of the Union of Burma
General Ne Win has been invited to the United States as a gesture of support for his efforts to maintain Burmaʼs non-alignment and independence and a reaffirmation of our willingness to accept true neutrality in a Southeast Asian State. The visit is also intended to dispel suspicions which Ne Win has long held that the United States is hostile to his government and help improve the atmosphere of our relations with Burma.
General Ne Win has visited the United States five times before, but never as head of government or chief of state. His last visit, in 1960 as Chief of Staff of the Burmese Armed Forces, left him and Madame Ne Win with a feeling of resentment over their treatment about which they are still sensitive.2
Since taking power in a military coup in 1963, General Ne Win has concentrated all power in his own hands. Internally, he has taken a strongly nationalistic approach, aimed at eliminating foreign influence and pulling Burma up by its own bootstraps. However, drastic nationalization of the economy, under a program of “Burmese socialism”, has resulted in serious mismanagement and economic disorder, and chronic problems of insurgency, concentrated in the ethnic minority areas, have continued.
In foreign relations, Ne Win has maintained a strict neutrality avoiding involvement or comment on issues not directly related to Burmese interests. Acutely conscious of Burmaʼs long and exposed border with Communist China, he has continued to regard the maintenance of good relations with Communist China as essential to prevent Burma from becoming another battlefield like Vietnam. At the same time he has indicated awareness of the importance of an American presence in Southeast Asia in permitting Burma to preserve its neutrality.[Page 241]
There are no bilateral issues that need to be raised in this visit. Your meetings with Ne Win will, therefore, be more in the nature of an exchange of views on subjects of mutual interest. Ne Win may not initially be very forthcoming, and I suggest that you make a point of seeking out his opinions early in the conversation.
Recommended Topics to Raise:
Vietnam: The Burmese Government maintains a carefully neutral attitude on Vietnam, and has resisted Communist pressure to condemn our position there. Ne Win has an appreciation of the significance of the Vietnam struggle for Burma, although the dictates of avoiding provocation to Communist China will not permit him to say so publicly. I recommend that you have a full discussion with him of our position and aims in Vietnam and Southeast Asia as a whole.
Southeast Asian Regional Development: Burma has not taken part in regional development activities because of concern for its neutral status and belief that its limited resources should be confined to Burma. I suggest that you express your belief in the contribution regional development can make to improving the lives of all peoples in Southeast Asia and point out the encouraging progress made to date. I recommend that you do not press Ne Win specifically on participation, which he would be likely to resent.
Communist China: Although most Burmese see China as a long-term threat, their relations with Communist China to date have worked satisfactorily for them. I suggest that you explain our policy briefly and solicit General Ne Winʼs views. Since Ne Win has made a number of trips to Communist China, you may wish to ask him for his estimate of the recent developments in China as well as his views on the basic attitudes and motivations of the Chinese Communist leadership.
Topics General Ne Win May Raise:
Burmaʼs Non-aligned Policy: Ne Win has indicated sensitivity that the reasons for Burmaʼs non-alignment are not fully understood and he may wish to explain the rationale for his policy. I recommend you reassure General Ne Win of our understanding and respect for his non-alignment and his efforts to maintain Burmaʼs independence. You might also add we respect Burmaʼs right to choose its own way and have no wish to interfere in Burmaʼs internal affairs.
I am enclosing a copy of Ambassador Byroadeʼs cable3 discussing the visit, which I recommend that you read if you have not already done so.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Burma, Ne Win Visit, 9/8–10/66. Secret.↩
- A paper prepared by Ewing on September 6 details these four incidents: U.S. customs officials searched Ne Winʼs and his wifeʼs baggage; doctors at Minnesota University Hospital were questioned about his health; he was kept waiting for an appointment at the Pentagon; and Mrs. Ne Win overheard an insulting reference to herself allegedly made by Mrs. Eisenhower while she was in a private waiting room at Walter Reed Hospital. (Ibid.)↩
- The Department of State copy of this telegram, 217 from Rangoon, August 18, is in Department of State, Central Files, POL 7 BURMA.↩
- The communiqué, September 9, is printed in American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1966, pp. 643–644. There were difficulties on the wording on Vietnam. They are outlined in a memorandum from Rostow to the President, September 8. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Burma, Ne Win Visit, 9/8–10/66)↩
- Neither found attached.↩