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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 109

The Fallacy of the American Policy towards Burma

By Kanbawza Win

American scholars and policy makers, construe the Union of Burma, as a monolithic whole. without delving deep into its authentic contemporary history. In its obsession to counter the Chinese influence, it has somehow or other draw the conclusion that this country is endeavouring to change from military dictatorship to that of liberal democracy and as such should help them in any aspect to complete the transaction.

But this approach is slowly and surely sowing the seeds of discord that can lead to regional destabilization and that of the world at large.. Hence, instead of encouraging democracy and the prevalence of human rights or national self determination, it is indirectly encouraging the ethnic cleansing policy, resurrecting the Tatmadaw (army) together with its crony capitalism in exploiting the near 60 million people that has suffered for more than half a century.

Yes! Burma was an American Foreign Policy Success, after US set back in the Middle East especially in Iraq and a withdrawal from Afghanistan, it was able to make its presence felt in the South China sea and in Burma which in a way have taken another step in encircling China. Economically it means that the American companies will accelerate their push to get into the country, alongside their competitors from China, Thailand, Japan, Singapore and Europe. Obviously the best business opportunities in Burma will be stolen, from the people of the country, and divided between the corporate raiders and regime cronies. The only crumbs that will be left will be to work as disenfranchised wage slaves, and in a devastated natural environment.

The Crux of the Burmese ProblemPanglong Conference in 1947 where the three major races Shan, Chin and Kachin came together to decide to live together with the Myanmar as a test case for 10 years after which they can decide their own future. Now it is over half a century and is still struggling to find the Burmese identity.

Panglong Agreement was a part of ‘Aung San-Attlee Agreement’ which was signed by the British Prime Minister Clement Richard Attlee and Aung San, Burma’s Independence hero on 27th Jan. 1947, in England. As a result, Burma was promised independence which did not include the Frontier Areas, as the Non-Myanmar States were known then. under the British rule. But Aung San returned to Burma and pleaded with the ethnic leaders to unite for Independence. On 8 Feb. 1947 – he delivered a speech at Panglong, a small village in Southern Shan State promising adequate protection for non-Myanmar rights, if they decided to join Myanmar. Aung San said,

“Non-Myanmar could struggle on their own, but no one can predict how long it will last. But if you join hands with the Myanmar, independence at the same time is assured,”

If Aung San (father of Aung San Suu Kyi) did not promise equal opportunity and self-determination, there would never have been the Union of Burma not to mention, the chauvinist name of the Union of Myanmar that justifies the ethnic cleansing policy. The Panglong Agreement was aimed at setting up a federal union on the basis of equality and autonomy for every ethnic nationality residing in the Union of Burma including the Rohingyas. Hence, the Union of Burma was the Union of several ethnic nations including Myanmar and Non Myanmar.

After a decade, the Non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities discovered that the promise of the central government was not up to the mark and they gathered at Taunggyi in 1961 to set up a Genuine Federal Union. But the Myanmar ethnic nationalist under General Ne Win replied with a military coup in 1962. Since then the country had gone down to the bottomless pit of the world. If the civilian government, led by U Nu then, had been able to solve this ethnic problem then there will be no military coup and no need to struggle for democracy. Hence, democracy and the prevalence of human rights alone cannot solve the Burmese problem; there must be a genuine Federal Union of Burma. Now as things are turning out with the impending conference in Naypyidaw, federalism seems to just in name only while the Myanmar race led by the army (Tatmadaw) in lieu with their crony capitalism is going to rough ride shod over the ethnic nationalities.

Continuation of Ethnic Cleansing

Mahar Myanmar literally interpreted means we Myanmar are superior, is the basis philosophy of the ethnic cleansing policy implemented by successive Burmese administrations. The civilian government before 1962 made an attempt to achieve homogeneity by imposing religious and cultural assimilation. After creating the ministry of Religious and Culture in 1953 it promoted the process of assimilation and eventually in 1961 Buddhism was declared a state religion. Myanmar Buddhism race was the slogan, the classic example being of what the Buddhist monks are doing now in the country as high by TIME magazine.

When General Ne Win came to power he went a step further by removing the rights and culture of the ethnic nationalities as a means of creating homogeneous unitary state. This he made it by declaring the Myanmar language as the only official language to be used in the country and making Myanmar as the medium of teaching in all levels of education from primary to University. No doubt the standard of education fell. He also prohibited the right for the ethnic peoples to learn their own languages. So the contemporary history of Burma both in the civilian and the Tatmadaw administrations, the national building were based on the notion of one language, one language and one religion. Hence the changing of the country’s name from Burma to Myanmarwas an important step in assimilating the ethnic nationalities and it was done by force, and for more than half a century the Tatmadaw had implemented by killing the ethnic nationalities, destroying their livelihood, using rape as a weapon, waging war on ethic nationalities religion and culture by means of various persecution, destroying the identity of the ethnic nationalities. Yet the West lead by the US and EU meekly submitted to the Burmese demand because of its potential and strategic value vis a vis China. Realpolitik.

Human Rights Watch said that the government’s security forces in Arakan State imitating Rwanda had committed “crimes against humanity” that left at least 180 people dead and120,000 displaced. Under the pretext of nation building, successive administrations have not only violated the basic human rights but also all categories of collective rights.

With the smokescreen of national sovereignty, the rights of self determination are rejected and in the name of national integration the right to follow different religions, to practice different cultures, and to speak different languages are deprived and in the name of national assimilation the rights to uphold different identities and traditions are denied.

On the whole the ex generals are not adjusting their views toward ethnicity or the manner in which they will debate with anyone on it. The ethnic nationalities of Burma are waging a war of survival against the Orwellian type of dictatorship, it is against what they call the three A's -- Annihilation, Absorption, and Assimilation.

The Myanmar dominated government construe that the status of a fully recognized citizen can be attained only in integration even though they can tolerate non integrated ethnic nationalities as guests but not as equal citizens. It is unable to accommodate a fragmented political identity and will ultimately come into conflict with its ethnic nationalities. They seem to be inspired by Pakistan and Malaysia that make Muslim and Nepal that make Hindu as the state religion. Hence the ethnic cleansing going on in ethnic dominated are especially in Arakan and Kachin States.

These Mahar Myanmarimagine itself as a historically cohesive nation whose organizational integration with the ethnic nationalities in the peripheries only needs to be completed either democratically or by force. The Juntas better known by their hideous acronym as the Care Taker Government, RC, BSPP, SLORC, SPDC and now the quasi civilian government still harbours a Mahar Myanmar mentality somewhat akin to Adolf Hitler’s theory of the superiority of the Aryan race.

If one were to read the mindset of the Myanmar ethnic nationality, is that most of them construe the other ethnic nationalities especially those who are residing on the hills such as Shan, Chin, Kachin, Karenni/ are wild heathen or below them. Hence it was not ethnic diversity but cultural practice which divided people. The Myanmar ethnic also looks down on the Arakanese and Mon. They are not categorize as hill people as they worship the same Theravada Buddhism but the Myanmar view that these Arakan are Mon are the conquered race and people and is not worth the political thought. What more prove is wanted when both the Arakanese and Mon were not invited to the 1947 Panglong Conference and was taken for granted as part of Myanmar. This is the essence if not crux of the Mahar Myanmar mentality. In such a backdrop when the country’s name Myanmar is a fait accompli will the American repeat the same analogy of treating the aborigines (Red Indians) during their hey days as what the Myanmar are doing to the Non-Myanmar? If so there is little or no hope for Kachin not to mention the Rohingyas.

Error in the US Policy Recommendation

President Thein Sein visit to the White house in May 2013 has requested for advancement of democratic reform and their institutionalization. Most American politicians including Senator Mitch McConnell construed that even though sanctions have played a critical role for Burma to return to democracy they are no longer needed now and should help support through 2015 elections and beyond.

A modest start in the right direction has been made in the bilateral Trade and Investment frame work agreement with the US agreeing to help Burma in energy, agriculture and infrastructure. The restrictions of the American investment on Tatmadaw industries and crony capitalism still make sense as it aim at diminishing Tatmadaw patronage system that dominates the economy. The investment guidelines developed by the State and Treasury Department offer the best means to achieve this objective, full stop.

However, the most controversial aspect of the American policy is that instead of encouraging the tyrannicalTatmadaw in going back to the barracks where it belongs, it supported a role in the new approach. Tatmadaw’s heart was against the very grain of democracy and the Union of the country and how can the leopard its spots? America, together with Europe saw only a sheepskin’s attire. It was the Tatmadaw in their obsession to rule in perpetuity have obliterated the brain in the country by killing the bright university students, close the universities or send them to the remote parts of the country. In their mindset is that they still construe that these young bright students are trouble makers and even now there is little talk of reinstating the Rangoon University as an independent institution.

It is lamentable that American policy makers have not learnt their lessons when during the Cold War era the US help the Tatmadaw with arms and ammunition including helicopters to use it in the eradication of narcotics and instead the Tatmadaw use it in fighting the ethnic freedom fighters and it was stop only when the KNU shot down one of the helicopters. Why repeat the same mistake again?

Lying the very concept of truth is the Tatmadaw’s norm since the country’s inception way back in 1949, when it call Karen leader, Saw Ba U Gyi was call for negotiations and held him prisoner until he agree to their terms and only because the latter was able to trick them he was released. It will be hard for them to let go this concept after practicing for more than 60 years. Nobody, especially the ethnic nationalities trust the Tatmadaw?

In fact the Tatmadaw should be replaced by the Union Army where equal contingent of the ethnic forces should be in cooperated with an ethnic general in command that is really true to the Union, e.g. before Ne Win it was General Smith Dun and many of his leading commanders were ethnic nationalities and when the Union was threatened by the separatist Mujahids (now known as Rohingya) it was General Smith Dun who make a clean sweep and restored the dignity of Union of Burma.

Another important factor is that when the Union of Burma was born not a single Non-Myanmar had endeavoured to secede from the Union. It was only the Myanmar that did not recognized the Union of Burma and the contemporary history has proved in the history of PVO (People’s Volunteer Force), then the Red flag Communist of Thakin Soe, followed by the White Flag of Thakin Than Htun of the Burma Communist Party. Are not all these Myanmar? Only when the ethnic nationalities realise that the government was practicing Myanmar chauvinism did the ethnic nationalities began to question the government.

Besides the struggle in Burma is not horizontal but vertical i.e. unlike former Yugoslavia there was no ethnic fighting against another ethnic, they were all fighting against the central government headed by the Myanma Tatmadaw. It is between the military-held state on top and broader society as a whole which in fact is the whole country as the central issue.
The answer is Power -- power as vested in the state. In other words, what is the relation of the state and power-holders to be vis-à-vis broader society? To put it differently what kind of power relation should there exist between the state on top and broader society below. In other words it is going to be dictatorial or democratic? So Tatmadaw must be remove from the central government once and for all it there is to be peace and harmony in the country.


There is no peace deal yet with the ethnic nationalities, just a cease fire while the government is already deploying its age old technique of Divide and Rule Policy and will be calling a sham ethnic Conference at Naypyidaw very soon. The forgone conclusion is already known; Tatmadaw will come out supreme as usual just a state within a state.

Crony capitalism will continue to thrive with a severe Dutch disease for the people of Burma. Most of the people of Burma will become desperate especially the ethnic nationalities witnessing their natural and human resources exploited by the government, cronies and foreign firms backed by the West and the US. Eventually, there will come to a point when there was no choice but to rebel and this time because Uncle Sam was on the side of the government these forces will be forced to ask help from China as what the ethnic WA are already doing now and this time China will be ready to help. Is this the scenario which America wants? Perhaps the America scholars and policy are not apt in the study of history of Burma. The current US Foreign Policy makers were just a child when the Union of Burma was born (1948), so they were just an audience, now they have become actors and what kind of directors will they be in the future of Burma-American relation when they make a wrong decision now?

End Notes:

Signed by Aung San (father of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi) and British Prime Minister C Attlee.
SHAN report in 2000

Cady; John F -A History of Modern Burma p 636

Michaels; Samatha, Burma Govt Accused of Ethnic Cleansing Against Rohingya Muslims Irrawaddy22-4-2013

Perspective of Dr. Maung Zarni

Brown, David: The State and Ethnic Politics in Southeast Asia, London school of Economics p36

Clapp; Priscilla & Di Maggo; Suzanne, Sustaining Myanmar’s Transition: Ten Critical Challenges Asia Society 24-6-2013 IV A news stage in US-Myanmar Relations See the fourth recommendation

At that time the chief of the air force was Saw Shi Sho, the chief of operations was the Sandhurst-trained Karen, Brig. Saw Kya Doe. The Quartermaster General, who controlled three-quarters of the military budget, was a Karen, Saw Donny and Brigadier Bo Let Ya, army chief of staff and later minister of Defense, several officers and other ranks dominated nearly all the supporting services, including the staff, supply and ammunition depots, artillery and signals corps all true to the Union of Burma

- Asian Tribune -

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