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Neutralist Foreign Policy

U NuAung San had proposed in 1946 that Burma form part of a "United States of Indochina," including the other nations of mainland and insular Southeast Asia, for the purpose of mutual aid and security. Burma, he argued, could not stand alone in a dangerous international environment. U Nu's perception of the world was similar. Burma, he said on several occasions, was "hemmed in like a tender gourd among the cactuses." Unlike Aung San, he developed a policy of neutrality through which Burma would be, as far as was possible, on good terms with all countries and would avoid entangling alliances. U Nu distanced himself from Cold War confrontations, saying "we cannot allow ourselves to be absorbed into any power bloc." He attempted to serve as an intermediary between East and West, particularly the United States and China, with limited success. Intensely interested in foreign policy, he was, as a friend observed, "his own foreign minister" and became a prominent world figure in the 1950s.

As the communists attempted to seize power in the first two years of independence, U Nu's government -- already tied to Britain through the October 17, 1947, treaty - was drawn closer to the West, from which it sought aid to combat insurrection. At this time the policy of neutrality was apparently not fully formulated. Strong and reliable allies were sought, but neither the Commonwealth nations nor the United States seemed interested in establishing mutual security arrangements, in part because U Nu's position seemed so precarious. In October 1949, the People's Republic of China was proclaimed. Burma was the first noncommunist nation to recognize the new Beijing government, on December 16, 1949, hoping in part to stem the perceived threat of Chinese aid to communists within Burma. The neutralist turn in Burmese foreign policy dates from this time.

Peaceful relations with China, historically Burma's greatest threat before the nineteenth century, was U Nu's greatest diplomatic triumph. The CIF question was a cause of great tensions, for the Chinese Nationalist irregulars continued to use bases within Burma to attack Yunnan across ill-defined borders. When it was discovered that United States money and arms were being piped to the CIF, U Nu canceled United States aid programs in protest in 1953 and took the issue-to the United Nations. An airlift of some 6,000 CIF to Taiwan was carried out in May 1954.

A large number of irregulars remained behind, however, and continued to cause problems. In 1954 U Nu and Zhou Enlai, China's premier, met in Rangoon and agreed to mutual observance of the "five principles of peaceful coexistence." Yet the lack of a border agreement continued to be a vexing issue. The Chinese claimed large areas in Kachin and Shan states, and in 1956 Chinese troops entered these regions. In October 1956 U Nu went to Beijing to negotiate with Zhou. Chinese troops were withdrawn, and a temporary settlement of the border was reached by November. Final agreement on the Burma-China border, along with a treaty of friendship and nonaggression, was ratified on January 28, 1960. Although other issues, such as the domicile of Burmese communists in China, the entry of illegal Chinese immigrants into the country, and the status of overseas Chinese living in Burma, arose between China and Burma, they did not disrupt what were essentially friendly relations.

U Nu supported China's claim to Taiwan, urging the United States to pull its naval force out of the Taiwan Strait in order that the island be "peacefully liberated." He opposed the formation of the United States-sponsored Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), claiming that it would increase the chance of war in the region. Yet Burma had supported the United Nations resolution against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and its incursion into the Republic of Korea (South Korea) in 1950.

Relations with the United States were not unfriendly, despite the CIF issue; in 1955, while visiting Washington, U Nu suggested that the United States and China begin talks, offering to serve as intermediary. He also became one of the founders and leaders of the nascent Nonaligned Movement and helped organize the first Afro-Asian Conference at Bandung, Indonesia, in April 1955.

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Page last modified: 08-10-2011 12:16:45 ZULU