Burma

An introduction

It was at this moment that some stranded remnants of the Chinese Nationalist armies, numbering about twelve thousand, overran the Burmese frontier and joined forces with the Karen rebels. This gave the Communists a breathing space. But fortunately the Burmese Army was able to hold in check both the rebels and the Chinese, the latter finally being evacuated to Formosa under pressure from the United Nations.

By about 1952, the round had been won, and the enemy was defeated, though roaming bands of outlaws still needed mopping up. It will be asked, "How did the miracle happen? How did the democratic Government manage to survive? The answer may perhaps indicate a way to face similar situations, elsewhere. The Government attacked the problem on all fronts—military, political, social, and economic.

Politically, it rallied the people around nationalism and patriotism, convincing them that it was the Communists and Karens who were the stooges of foreign powers, and that it alone was fighting for full and real independence. It also educated them in the virtues of a democratic way of life, as well as the dangers of dictatorship. In order to train them in the practice of democracy, the Cabinet decentralized the administration and handed over local powers to elected representatives at all levels down to the smallest villages. Civil liberties were guaranteed and opposition political parties developed even though rebel remnants were a disturbing influence.

Once the back of the rebellion was broken, a liberal amnesty was declared and thousands of rebels who surrendered were rehabilitated. Some were recruited into labor battalions to prepare them for new and honorable careers. There were drastic land reforms: redistribution of lands from the hands of absentee landlords to the tillers; grant of loans on easy terms; formation of co-operatives for joint sale of crops and joint purchase of consumer goods; community development schemes which made primary and adult education available to peasants. In fact, the Government introduced the very reforms which the Communist rebels could promise only as a distant goal. The allegiance which had wavered gradually swung back to the Government.

The Government also knew that to maintain peace it needed the good will of its neighbors, and particularly of the great power blocs. Hence it developed the firm policies of benevolent neutrality and noninterference, of mediation between the power blocs, and of close co-operation with other neutrals, particularly the Colombo Plan countries, which are analyzed by Mr. Barrington in this collection.

Once the rebellion was quelled, economic development became a major concern. With the help of American consultant firms, an eight-year plan was drawn up, which was later converted into two four-year plans. Like other newly independent countries, Burma aspires to industrialize herself rapidly, and to make her economy more productive and independent. At the same time she must build more and modern schools and hospitals. The task has been truly formidable, due to limited resources, agricultural and other production crippled by war damage and the rebellion, shortage of technical skill and managerial know-how, and—a cruel blow—an abnormal fall in the world price of rice, our most important export.

Despite these difficulties, Burma still perseveres and plods along with the unrelenting will and cheerful self-confidence which never deserted her leaders even in hours of darkness. Agricultural production is steadily increasing. A modest industrial program is under way with a few textile mills, sugar mills, cement factories, breweries, jute mills, a pharmaceutical plant, and also a small steel mill, already working. We hope before too long to become self-sufficient in essential commodities. A countrywide electrification program with a national grid has been started, and a hydroelectric plant is already under construction. Many problems of management, cost accounting, and production still confront us, but they are not insurmountable. The oil fields are producing again, as are wolfram, lead, zinc, and other mines. Social services have not been neglected. Hospitals and schools are being opened every year, and education has been made free.

Our paramount problem is to find sufficient capital to develop the economy and to promote social welfare on a vast scale at the same time. This is where foreign business investment, United Nations technical assistance, and loans from rich countries can play a useful part. Our troubles are the teething troubles of a growing child—such as every newly independent country wishing to catch up with its modern neighbors in the community of nations must face boldly and cheerfully and perhaps, sometimes, grimly. Burma has not been lacking in courage, optimism, and seriousness of purpose. And, as I think the material in this collection will show, our effort is based in a rich and creative culture and sustained by a profound spirituality, which gives us strength for the tasks before us.

U Kyaw Nyein is the deputy prime minister of the Union of Burma.
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