Liang Zhi: China-Burma Relations from 1949 to 1953 Revisited


   Fearing the new China, the U Nu Government was determined to recognize the People’s Republic of China almost from the outset. It was the first non-Communist country to recognize the new China after it was determined that the Commonwealth countries would do the same. However, relations between the two countries were generally estranged for some time afterwards, with Burma and the United States fighting over the remnants of the Kuomintang in 1953, China’s demand for rubber on the rise, and Burma’s rice being badly unsold. All of this provided an opportunity for a dramatic improvement in Sino-Burmese relations in the mid-1950s. This period of history clearly demonstrates that ideological differences and geopolitical factors once hindered the development of Sino-Myanmar relations, but the need for national interests eventually led the two countries to coexist peacefully.

   Keywords: China-Myanmar relations; Korean War; KMT remnants; cultural exchanges; economic and trade exchanges;

   Myanmar was the first non-communist country to recognize the People’s Republic of China, and in the mid-1950s, Sino-Myanmar relations became a model for implementing the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence”. It must be noted, however, that during the first years of diplomatic relations between China and Myanmar, relations between the two countries were cold and suspicious. This brief history leaves many questions as to what factors prompted the pro-British and pro-American Burmese government to recognize the new China at such an early stage. Why was there a marked estrangement between the two countries at the outset of diplomatic relations, and why did relations between China and Burma improve so rapidly in 1954? What was the role of the U.S.-Myanmar relationship as an important link in the Sino-Myanmar relationship?

   In recent years, the gradual opening up of archival documents in China and Burma in particular has enabled researchers to take a closer look at Sino-Burmese relations from 1949 to 1953.1 This is a very complex picture, showing both the ideological orientations and national interests of China and Burma in the context of the Cold War between East and West, as well as the ambivalence of the two countries towards each other and the inevitability of improved bilateral relations themselves. serendipity. This paper will use archival documents from Burma, China, the United States and India to reveal the historical facts of the relationship between China and Burma before and after the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in greater detail, and to shed new light on the main considerations behind Burma’s decision on whether and when to recognize the new China, and the internal and external factors that led China-Myanmar relations to move from cold to rapprochement.

   I. Myanmar’s recognition of the New China (1949)

   There have long been two theories about the motivation for Myanmar’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China: one is that the U Nu government was under pressure from left-wing forces in the country to establish diplomatic relations with the new China2; the other is that, faced with the reality of the establishment of a legitimate regime by the Chinese Communist Party, Myanmar feared that refusing to recognize the new China would lead to friction and even a deterioration of relations between the two countries.3 The former may have overestimated the influence of left-wing forces on the U Nu government’s decision making and the impact of the new Chinese regime on Myanmar’s relations with China. The latter does shed light on the main considerations behind Myanmar’s decision to recognize the new China, but does not explain why a skeptical Myanmar waited two and a half months after the founding of the new China before recognizing it. In other words, established studies have examined the issue of Myanmar’s recognition of the new China with a focus on whether to recognize it, while ignoring when to do so. As it turns out, the more important issue for Burma is when, because almost from the beginning, the U Nu government decided to recognize the new China.

   The background of Myanmar’s recognition of New China and the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries was the basic direction of the foreign policies of China and Myanmar in the late 1940s, when Mao Zedong, in an article entitled “On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship” on 30 June 1949, put forward a general foreign policy approach of “lopsidedness” towards socialist countries.5 As early as February of that year, China and the Soviet Union had already begun to discuss the world’s economic, social and cultural development. The question of revolutionary division of labor was discussed. Soon, Stalin made it clear that the center of the world revolution had shifted to China and East Asia and that the CCP should fulfill the responsibilities it had assumed for the revolutions in the East Asian countries.6 It was clear that China was willing to become the leader of the Asian revolutions.In August, Liu Shaoqi stated in a report to Stalin that the national revolutionary movement in East Asia should use the cities as the center of counter-revolutionary forces, based on China’s experience” The Communist Party has more clearly placed its foreign policy in the context of the confrontation between the two camps of socialism and imperialism since the founding of the new China. People’s Democracies; the other was to wage struggle against the imperialist countries. In the same month, at the opening of the Asian-Australian Trade Union Congress, Liu Shaoqi gave a detailed account of China’s revolutionary experience, stressing the need for China to assume international responsibility for supporting the workers’ movement and the national liberation movement in Asia, and identifying armed struggle as the main form of liberation struggle in many colonial and semi-colonial countries.8 As some scholars have argued, the new China, with its “revolutionary state”, was a “revolutionary state”. “The emergence of its identity and image on the international stage poses a fundamental challenge to the legitimacy of the existing international system and institutions dominated by the Western imperialist countries (especially the United States). It is for this reason that China, while sharply and harshly criticizing Asian nationalist countries, has sought to induce them to remain neutral in an increasingly polarized Cold War scenario.9 Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that the new China regards the U Nu regime in Burma as a “servant” of imperialism.

In January 1948, Burma gained independence. The early years of independence were characterized by internal and external problems: the economy was in shambles, the military was weak, anti-government military actions by the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) and ethnic groups had led to a major civil war, and Burma was facing not only China and India as its two immediate neighbors, but also a growing U.S.-Soviet confrontation that threatened to involve Burma. In June, the foreign ministry assured the British that Burma would not ally itself with the Soviet Union and would work with the British, Chinese, and Soviet governments to promote a pro-British and pro-American foreign policy. The United States and the Chinese Nationalist regime cooperated fully.12 In the summer of 1949, Burmese Deputy Prime Minister Ne Win (Ne

   Win) and Foreign Minister E Maung visited the United Kingdom and the United States to request assistance. During this time, they expressed concern about Communist Chinese “infiltration” into Myanmar and pledged their willingness to consider joining the Pacific Security Treaty.13 Around this time, Prime Minister U Nu also repeatedly proposed to Indian Prime Minister Nehru the signing of a four-nation defense and economic treaty between India, Pakistan, Ceylon (formerly known as Sri Lanka) and Myanmar.14 Nehru, however, insisted that the four-nation treaty was premature and that it would be considered by the international community as a broader defense and economic treaty. Nehru, however, insisted that a four-nation treaty was premature and would be seen by the international community as a first step in a broader defense arrangement. Ultimately, U Nu had to abandon the idea.14 All of this became entangled with the Chinese Communist Party’s acquisition of power, and together prompted the Burmese government to consider whether and especially when to recognize the new China.

   In the second half of 1948, the Chinese Communist Party launched the Battle of Liaoshen, which resulted in a crushing defeat for the Kuomintang forces and the first signs of civil war. At the end of the year, the Burmese embassy in Beijing, in a report to the Burmese government, analyzed that the chances of the CCP winning the civil war were greater than those of the KMT. The Communist Party would then industrialize resource-rich Yunnan through the Soviet model of development. As a result, Yunnan will become a real threat to Burma and to Southeast Asia as a whole. For now, the Burmese government should begin to consider whether to recognize the Communist regime in the north. If the Communist Party finally wins, Burma will have no choice but to recognize the new China. If, on the other hand, there was a separation of the two parties in China, Burma should proceed cautiously, suggesting that it wait until India, Pakistan, and Siam (formerly known as Thailand) were clear before deciding its position on recognition.15 However, for some time thereafter, there was no indication that the Burmese government accepted this suggestion and began to consider the issue.

   On May 28, Amun told U.S. Ambassador to Burma Jerome K. Huddle that Burma would align itself with the U.S., India, Pakistan, and Ceylon in recognizing the new People’s Republic of China. However, in a letter to Huddle two days later, the Permanent Secretary of the Burmese Foreign Ministry changed his position, wanting the United States, India, and other countries to consult with Burma on its policy toward Communist China, and apologized for not clearly articulating the Burmese attitude in Imun’s earlier talks.16 It was clear that the Burmese government wanted flexibility on the recognition of the new China and did not want to be completely beholden to other countries.17 On June 7, the The U.S. Embassy has informed Inman that the U.S. Government is willing to consult with Burma on its policy toward Communist China. At present, the common attitude of the countries involved is not to initiate discussions with Communist China on the issue of recognition and to consult with each other before preparing to recognize the Chinese government. The Burmese Foreign Ministry quickly responded by agreeing with the basic position put forward by the U.S. side.17

   On October 1, the People’s Republic of China was established and issued a government proclamation: “This Government is the only lawful Government representing the entire people of the People’s Republic of China. This Government is willing to establish diplomatic relations with any foreign government that is willing to abide by the principles of equality, mutual benefit and mutual respect for territorial sovereignty.” On the 3rd and 5th of October, New China informed the former Burmese Embassy in Nanjing of the contents of the announcement verbally and in writing, respectively, stating that China considered it necessary to establish normal diplomatic relations with all countries in the world.18 In the face of China’s willingness to establish diplomatic relations, and in accordance with the agreement reached with the U.S. government, the Burmese government would next hold consultations with the countries concerned.

   On October 17, the Burmese Embassy in the United States reported that the United States hoped that Burma would not be in a hurry to recognize the new China, citing the government’s lack of commitment to its international obligations, the lack of clarity on sovereignty, and the fact that the United States had not yet severed relations with the Nationalist government. But it turns out that the U.S. attitude is by no means the only factor in determining the position of the U Nu government. The more important issue for Burma seems to be how the Commonwealth countries, particularly Britain and India, view the recognition of the new China, and on 9 November the Acting Foreign Minister suggested to Aung San Suu Kyi that, with all the indications that Britain and India were about to recognise the new China, it was clear that Burma could not afford to lag behind in this matter and should decide now to recognise the new China without consulting other countries. This would not be a violation of the agreement with the United States; after all, Burma is keeping pace with Britain, India (and possibly Pakistan). Eamon’s attitude is very intriguing. He argues that a common front with the US and other countries on the recognition of the new China does not mean that we cannot act immediately on our own. Recognition of the new China has become inevitable and it is only a matter of time before we can do anything about it. Burma faces a unique situation, and if we recognize the Communist government and the border between China and Burma remains in the hands of the Kuomintang, that will put pressure on Burma. Burma cannot be the first country in the region to recognize the Chinese Communist regime, but neither can it be the last to establish diplomatic relations with the new China, as other countries may suddenly change their attitudes. A closer look at Aung San Suu Kyi’s position reveals Myanmar’s complex mindset on the issue of recognizing the new China: fear of being isolated from the international community because of being the first to recognize the Communist regime and a sudden change of course by the Commonwealth countries, and fear of China’s hostility towards Myanmar because of its inaction while other countries are establishing diplomatic relations with the new China. It was for this reason that the foreign ministry eventually concluded that “the situation is changing rapidly and must be watched closely”.19

   On 10 November, Burma’s ambassador in London reported that the Commonwealth countries were about to recognise the new China. Ten days later, India sent a note to Burma detailing its policy position on recognition: the reality of the existence of the new China should be acknowledged, but recognition in itself did not imply endorsement of its policy. On December 25, U Nu wrote to Nehru, agreeing with India’s view.20 After confirming the basic position of the Commonwealth countries, especially Britain and India, Burma also accelerated the pace of recognition.21 On December 5, Burma’s foreign ministry informed its embassies in Britain and India that, in view of Burma’s special position, it could not Delay in recognizing the new China should immediately inform the British and Indian governments that the Burmese government could recognize the Communist regime any time after 11 days and report the other’s reaction. As a result, both the British and Indian governments said they had no objection to Burma doing so.21

   On 16 December, Imun telephoned Zhou Enlai to inform the Chinese that Burma had decided to recognize the new China and wanted the two countries to establish diplomatic relations and send each other envoys. After consulting Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai replied on 21 December: “After your government has broken off relations with the remnants of the Chinese Nationalist reactionaries, the Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China is willing to establish diplomatic relations between the People’s Republic of China and the Union of Burma on the basis of equality, mutual benefit and mutual respect for territorial sovereignty. to conduct negotiations.” In May 1950, after four rounds of negotiations, China and Burma decided to establish diplomatic relations.21 On June 8, the two countries formally established diplomatic relations.22

   Burma’s recognition of the new China was the result of a combination of fear of the Chinese Communist regime and the influence of the attitudes of the Commonwealth countries. In a sense, the former determined Burma’s decision to recognize New China almost from the outset, while the latter determined that Burma would not recognize it until two and a half months after its establishment. In other words, in the process of deciding whether and when to recognize the new China, Myanmar had to consider both its relationship with China and the position of other countries. It is for this reason that, in order to prevent any misunderstanding in the international community about Myanmar’s recognition of the new China, Aymon later clarified in his radio speech that the move does not mean that Myanmar agrees with the policies of the Communist regime. Likewise, the willingness to consider the establishment of diplomatic relations did not mean that the new China trusted Burma. 16 January 1950, the English bi-monthly People’s China, in an editorial entitled Diplomacy and Friendship, pointed out that on the issue of recognition, Burma had to be considered in the same light as the socialist countries. national distinction, Burma’s recognition of the new China was forced, and it is important to be wary of such a government.23 In short, the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Burma did not immediately initiate friendly relations between the two countries, and Beijing and Rangoon remained suspicious of each other.

   Extremely Limited Ties (1950-1952)

Before and after the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Myanmar, there was mutual suspicion between the two countries. In September 1950, the United States and Burma signed an economic cooperation agreement and the Truman administration decided to provide Burma with $8-10 million in military assistance, partly out of concern over the so-called “Chinese threat”. In China’s view, this was the United States preparing for a full-scale invasion of Asia and intensifying its economic penetration of Burma and strengthening its economic blockade of China. The new Chinese government therefore warned the Burmese government that China would not tolerate the construction of an airport in Burma by the United States and Britain, which it considered a threat to China. 24