United States, Relations with
- American ties with Burma go back to before the First Anglo-Burmese War. Adoniram Judson, a Baptist preacher, arrived in the country in 1815 and was followed by other American Baptist missionaries, who made many converts among the Karens (Kayins), Chins, and Kachins. During World War II, American troops fought alongside Chin, Kachin, Naga, British, and Chinese troops in northern Burma; Merrill's Marauders fought bloody battles in 1944 to capture Myitkyina and its airfield from the Japanese.Before Burma became formally independent, the government signed an educational exchange agreement with Washington under the Fulbright Program in late 1947, and the United States began providing the country with foreign aid in 1950. But relations were troubled by Washington's support for Kuomintang (Guomindang) forces operating in Shan State, and Prime Minister U Nu ended the aid agreement over this issue in 1953. Aid was resumed in 1956, but following the loss of two Burmese air force planes in 1961 after they had intercepted a cargo plane from Taiwan bringing American supplies to the Kuomintang, there was a new crisis in relations, and antiU.S. demonstrations flared up in Rangoon (Yangon). U Nu's government regarded backing for the Kuomintang intruders by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as a deliberate attack on Burma's sovereignty and independence.After Ne Win established the Revolutionary Council in March 1962, relations with the United States and other Western countries were reduced. Although ongoing American aid agreements continued until their expiry, the Fulbright Program was shut down, and the activities of private organizations, such as the Ford and Asia Foundations, ended. However, the United States continued to give low-profile military assistance, a total of US$80 million between 1958 and 1970, which included the training of Tatmadaw officers at U.S. facilities. Modest educational and cultural exchanges were also reestablished after 1970. By the mid-1970s, Washington was providing assistance for drug-eradication programs, including helicopters and other equipment, to interdict the export of opium and heroin across Burma's borders. According to some American critics, the U.S. government also made available defoliants, similar to "Agent Orange," to destroy poppy fields inside Burma, but the Ne Win regime used them indiscriminately against civilian ethnic minority populations. By the 1980s, the United States had become an important provider of economic aid, though the amounts were small compared to those given by Japan and West Germany.Democracy Summer and the seizure of power by the State Law and Order Restoration Council in 1988 led to a fundamental change in relations. Much of the Tatmadaw's violence against civilian demonstrators took place near the U.S. embassy on Merchant Street in downtown Rangoon, and Ambassador Burton Levin was outspoken in criticizing the new regime's hard line. Aung San Suu Kyi soon gained admirers among influential Americans, including Ambassador Levin and Stephen Solarz, a U.S. congressman with a special interest in Asian affairs. American aid, a total of US$16 million, was suspended. Aside from humanitarian aid, it has not been resumed.The administrations of Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton both urged the post-1988 military regime to respect the results of the General Election of May 27, 1990. President Clinton's secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, visited Daw Suu Kyi in Rangoon after her release from house arrest in July 1995 and took a strong personal interest in her situation. The U.S. State Department, in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, criticized the junta's human rights violations, though the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had a different perspective, advocating better ties with the SLORC to carry out drug eradication more effectively. A community of prodemocracy Burmese exiles and activists emerged in Washington, D.C., after 1988 and received substantial moral and material support from the U.S. government, including the strong backing of an influential Republican Senator, Mitch McConnell of Missouri. Governmentfunded Radio Free Asia broadcasts news in the Burmese (Myanmar) language to provide Burmese listeners with an alternative to the official mass media.After 1988, the United States blocked financial assistance to the SLORC/SPDC by the World Bank, in which it has a major voice, and other multilateral lenders. Major sanctions were imposed by President Clinton in 1997 (a nonretroactive ban on American investments) and by President George W. Bush (bans on financial transactions and imports of Burmese products to the United States) following the "Black Friday" Incident of May 30, 2003 (renewed in 2004 and 2005). However, these measures did not affect the Yadana Pipeline Project, in which a U.S. oil company, Unocal, had a share. Business interests inside the United States opposed sanctions for economic reasons, and some critics argued that the 2003 import ban was counterproductive, harming ordinary Burmese workers rather than the military junta.The State Peace and Development Council has assailed the United States in the official media as a neoimperialist power and has warned its people that Washington might attempt an invasion of their country similar to that of Iraq. Civil servants have been given special military training to prepare for this eventuality. But official antiAmericanism seems to find limited resonance among ordinary people, whose main concerns are daily economic woes rather than a neoimperialist replay of Iraq and Afghanistan.See also European Union, Relations with.
Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). Donald M. Seekins . 2014.
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