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Ne Win Military Rule - Neutralism and Seclusion

Ne WinForeign policy represents the strongest line of continuity between the parliamentary and military periods. The very day of the coup, the Revolutionary Council announced its "adherence to a policy of positive neutrality," guaranteeing "the continuance of the existing cordial relations with all countries." Neutralism, however, was combined with a new element, a "policy of seclusion. This was, in part, a reaction to the perceived threat of external involvement in the insurgent movements. Another element in the country's isolationism - the result of attitudes going back to the colonial era-was fear of foreign economic domination and the desire to create, as far as possible, an autarkic socialist economic system. A third element was cultural. When the government took control of the media and the school system, it sought to eliminate sources of "decadent" Western influence. Foreign agencies, such as the Asia Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the British Council, and the library of the United States Information Agency, were shut down. Western missionaries were expelled and foreign tourists and scholars excluded from the country.

Burma continued to refuse to align itself with either of the superpowers and kept aloof from regional associations, such as the Association of Southeast Asian States (ASEAN), which was formed in 1967. Relations with China were initially excellent, as signaled by the friendly visit of President Liu Shaoqi in April 1963. The radicalization of China that took place during the great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of 1966-68, however, led to a sudden worsening of relations. The Chinese embassy in Rangoon began encouraging local Chinese to participate in Cultural Revolution style activities in 1967, much to the distress of the government.

An especially touchy issue was the wearing of red badges showing pictures of Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong, which the government prohibited. Resident Chinese students protested, and there were violent confrontations with Burmese students on June 27, 1967. This led to attacks against Chinese shops, houses, and automobiles and against the Chinese embassy. One Chinese aid official was killed by Burmese mobs. When the government refused to give a full apology and punish the perpetrators, the Beijing official press began calling for the overthrow of General Ne Win, labeling him a "'fascist military dictator." Burma and China withdrew their ambassadors, and Chinese aid programs were suspended. Support at this time was given to the creation of the communist insurgent movement in the northeastern border area. By March 1971, however, relations were restored and subsequently were good, though Chinese support of the BCP would continue to be a point of irritation.

Burma's relations with its other neighbors remained cordial, though distant. A problem arose with India concerning the nationalization and demonetarization decrees, which affected Indians resident in Burma and led to the repatriation of thousands, but was settled amicably by the mid-1970s. Relations with Thailand were strained for a time by the presence of U Nu's forces on the border, but he was expelled from Thailand in 1973. Burma remained outside of the vortex of the Vietnam Conflict, though there is evidence that there was cooperation between the BCP insurgents in training communist Pathet Lao forces on the Burma-Laos frontier.

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