99. Telegram From the Embassy in Burma to the Department of State1

81. My comments on Embtel 78.2 Disappointment reflected in reftel over last talk with Ne Win was as much influenced by impressions of Ne Win as a person as by anything he said.

It seems to me we can live fairly comfortably with his external policies, which, stated simply, are that Burma will tell all comers she not [Page 237] going to be involved in SEA or any other major international question. One might hope for a closer understanding, but as long as he stands up to ChiComs in roughly same manner, we could do worse. What worries me most is that I remain unconvinced he can make the grade internally, and am concerned as to what his government will do to Burma in the meantime.

I do not believe Ne Win has anything but the most rudimentary knowledge of things economic. I doubt if he can hold his own at all in any discussion of financial and economic matters with his more skilled leftist advisers. It perhaps did not get through in reftel that he sees it as his task to devote all his governmentʼs energies to a “master plan” to carry them through several years—and he admits this will take a long while. I am afraid he believes country and people can remain stopped, or suspended as it were, until that great day arrives, and then suddenly everything and everyone will fall into its proper place. With the loss of government control of a large portion of the country already, and with the economy basically even now at a standstill I donʼt really see how this approach can succeed. When all plans are finished he willing consider foreign material assistance, but believe he thinks that at that time advice or other foreign technical assistance will not be necessary as everything will already be worked out.

I also believe he visualizes a completely regimented society, with all wants and needs supplied by government, according to his master plan. Everyone will then be happy and insurgents will gladly come forth to share in the better life. If anyone not happy, he just hasnʼt been properly instilled with the new spirit of things.

I hope Iʼm wrong to criticize him so severely, but I believe he is both a naive and narrow person, and apt to become more so as he continues to isolate himself and attempts to isolate Burma.

I also believe that to a great extent expressions of grievances against US, at the very least condoned by him, are tactical and purposely exaggerated. These grievances often look very small indeed when analyzed. Of late, Soe Tin and others have stepped up tales of their complaints about the US to other Ambassadors. Some Ambassadors who made calls to explore what Chou En-laiʼs visit3 was all about, received long discourses instead on Burmaʼs troubles with the US. Believe FonOff reasons that if they to take the risk of trying to keep Russia, and more particularly Red China, at armʼs length, they must make sure that word they doing same to US reaches both the other giants. They do not really want to criticize US in SEA, so scrape bottom of the barrel for examples against US locally here in Burma and elsewhere. When other embassies query us as [Page 238] to why our relations suddenly worse, they surprised when we say we donʼt really think they are—and might just be improving a bit.

Getting back to Ne Win personally, regret cannot as yet know whether discussion will result in any better rapport between us. Am afraid it is a firm policy to keep the US and others at armʼs length—and that we will be unable to break that barrier.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 BURMA–US. Secret; Limit Distribution. Repeated to Bangkok and CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. In telegram 78 from Rangoon, July 30, Byroade reported on a conversation of that day with Ne Win lasting an hour and a half. (Ibid.) In anticipation of the conversation, the Department suggested in telegram 37 to Rangoon, July 28, that “if Ne Win is in mood for a frank talk, he may bring up allegations of past or present CIA involvement with ChiNat irregulars or ethnic insurgents.” Byroade should assure him that the United States “was not interested in removing him or his government.” (Ibid., POL BURMA–US)
  3. Chinese Prime Minister Chou En-lai visited Burma February 14–18, 1964.