Indians and Chinese in Burma

Notes on immigration

The Indians, our neighbors to the west, have been trading and settling in Burma for centuries, attracted by the opportunities of our fertile, uncrowded country. The British used cheap Indian labor to exploit our agriculture, and nearly half a million Indians were imported in 1927, the peak year. Most of them went home during the war, and immigration has now been stopped, but there are still an estimated 700,000 Indian aliens in Burma, where their influence in the commercial sphere it very considerable. Thus, for example, such lines as hardware, textiles, provisions and gold trading are dominated by Indians, and they are employed in many other businesses. There are also a few Indian doctors, lawyers, and teachers, and some Indian banks still maintain branches, though the Indian absentee landlords have been expropriated.

There are only about 300,000 Chinese aliens in Burma but they too are strongly entrenched in profitable commercial activities. Theoretically, there are no restrictions on resident aliens — and there is, of course, complete freedom in religion and educating children — but, in practice, since 80 per cent of the licenses required for import-export trade are reserved for Burmese nationals, the Indians and Chinese must often take in. a Burmese partner. Technically, an alien may qualify for Burmese citizenship if he had five years’ continuous residence in Burma prior to World War II, and many Indians have applied, but frequently their applications are kept pending indefinitely. Because of exchange control regulations it is difficult for the Indians to send money home, another factor which discourages their remaining in Burma. There is no hostility, however, and a special Government ministry looks after the problems of foreigners in the country. What has been said of the Indians applies as well, of course, to the Pakistanis of our Muslim communities.

As the number of Indians in Burma decreases, that of the Chinese appears to be growing. Newspapers frequently report clandestine Chinese infiltration and settlement, particularly in northern Burma. Nationalization has deprived the Chinese of their lucrative position in the liquor trade and pawnbrokerage, but they are expanding commercially and entering new fields where their industry and acumen bring success. There are many Chinese restaurants.

Few of the Chinese are applying for naturalization, even though many of them are Burma-born and have never visited China. They have their own schools and temples, their omen cultural activities. Recently, their loyalty has been turning from Chiang Kai-shek to Mao Tse-tung. This switch of allegiance can be traced to such factors as Burmese recognition of Peiping, frustrations over Chiang's inability to recover the mainland, Communist influence in Chinese schools and societies, the availability of business loans from the strong Chinese banks closely tied to Peiping, and, in general, an indifference to ideologies as long as the local Chinese can identify himself with a great and powerful country.