By Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt, Maha Saddhamma Jotika Dhaja Sithu
Since Myanmar exists in this world, Myanmar and the world always exist together. In addition, the environment, natural resources, terrestrial on ground, underground and aquatic inland and coastal and maritime abroad have made Myanmar a bountiful land of great attraction so much so that Myanmar has always been subjected to interactions and relations with her immediate and mediate neighbors as well as countries far and near thereby passing through the cycle of vicissitudes of life, the ups and downs since the time of the beginning of human kind upon this planet we call Earth. Till this planet Earth disappears together with humankind, Myanmar is bound to exist on this Earth.
A cursory glance at Myanmar history will enlighten us that Myanmar has her due share in the beginning of mankind through its long process of evolution. Planetology, geology, anthropology, archaeology and history of Myanmar provide abundance of strong evidences to account for the evolution of mankind from earliest to the stage of Anthropithecus Erectus (human walking erect on two legs) then passing through long periods of progress: Paleolithic Age (Old Stone Age), Mesolithic Age (Middle Stone Age), and Neolithic Age (New Stone Age). From food gathering stage of Old Stone Age to food producing stage of New Stone Age, early men of Myanmar advanced in culture and civilization. Many sites and places across the country are attractions of scientists and tourists. From cave dwellers of a settled agricultural life to village, township, district, city-states to kingdom and empire, peoples in Myanmar went passed through every phase and stage of evolution and progress of civilization and culture.
In the current context of geopolitics, so-called Southeast Asia has five insular and five peninsula countries. Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Singapore are five insular countries or state, whereas Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Viet Nam and Myanmar are peninsular countries or states on the mainland. Of these ten, Indonesia is the largest size in terms of land and population and Myanmar comes next to Indonesia in territorial size only not in population. Roughly speaking, Myanmar possesses a land almost equal to the sizes of the United Kingdom, France and Belgium. But its population, according to latest census, is barely 50+ million.
The country’s geographic location speaks volume for its geo-political and strategic importance. A country with a long borders and a long coastline is never isolated in its history.
At all times contact and relations and inter-actions with its neighbors and countries far and near. Myanmar is never an island (isolated) country.
Due to the geopolitical, strategic and natural factors described above, Myanmar has been subjected to the changes, political, economic, and socio-cultural at home and abroad. Peace, war, unity, disunity, conflicts, conciliation, sovereignty and subjection. The British Colonial Rule of over a century, the Japanese Fascism of about half a decade 5 years of Japanese Occupation during the Second World War still live in the memories of Myanmar peoples of today.
After Myanmar regained independence in 1948, Myanmar peoples have to continue their efforts for the maintenance and retention of their hard-won independence with the geopolitical and strategic factors still binding them. In addition, abruptly changes in the current 21st Century require Myanmar people to be alert and to adjust, adapt and to harmonize themselves to the fluid situation of the time. The formative period of Myanmar’s struggle for national freedom had a good lesson of gathering a friend or ally in the neighborhood and beyond. When Fascist Japan proved to be a new colonial power rather than the liberator of Myanmar, Myanmar people turned to the Western Alliance to repulse Japanese fascism, as Myanmar people were against the colonial rule not against the Western countries, they joined with Western Powers to defeat Japanese fascism. The lessons learnt in those war years were that other countries subjected to colonialism were struggling for national freedom. The Japanese war propaganda and slogans such as “Asia for the Asiatics” East Asia Economic Co-prosperity Sphere and modern military training in up to date warfare and youth organizations, Asian Youth Associations were eye-openers to Myanmar people to the outside world and inspiration for new generations to utilize the strength of international and regional cooperation in building their progressive futures. These blessings in the disguise of the war period yielded good results in post-war period and independence period.
Myanmar leaders have appreciatively accepted the value of friendship and cooperation as one of the national strengths (Meiktabala). They are never hesitant to aid and cooperate with not only with immediate neighbor countries but also with mediate neighbors and far and near people who are also struggling for national freedom and rebuilding and rehabilitation. Myanmar was always at the front of such cooperation tasks. Bogyoke Aung San never failed to attend international gatherings for such kind of task and never hesitant to take share even though his own country was devastated by the colonial rule, Japanese Fascism and Second World War. Two outstanding Myanmar aids may be cited here. In struggling to liberate their country from the French colonialism, Vietnam (French Indochina) had to fight with arms, resulting in the division of the country — North Vietnam and South Vietnam which suffered much. Myanmar supported both by providing food, machinery, and clothing to the Vietnams. Myanmar kept diplomatic relations with both North and South Vietnam Governments, true to her neutral policy. Similarly, the East Indies (now Indonesia) struggled to liberate themselves from the Dutch East India Colonial Rule; Myanmar gave not only moral support and political backing in the UN General Assembly but also in its rehabilitation works. Myanmar donated Dakota aircrafts used during the war to the first Indonesian Airline “the Garuda”. The Indonesian Government today is expressing their national thanks to Myanmar for that help when they were in badly need.
The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence or Pancha Sila of Banduong Conference and later much larger and wider movement called Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) can be traced to its origin in 1947, a year before Myanmar regained independence. The British Labor Government headed by Mr. Clement Atlee and British Parliament decided to grant independence to India and Myanmar peacefully. He invited Bogyoke Aung San and colleagues to London for talk in the British Parliament. In those days of post- World War period, aircrafts needed to stop on the way for refueling. So Bogyoke Aung San’s aircraft had to stop at New Delhi Airport for refueling. Taking the opportunity of few hours in New Delhi, Bogyoke Aung San asked for a courtesy call on Mr. Pandit Nehru who obligingly accepted. During an hour and a half dialogue between the two leaders, they discussed topics of common interest.
When Mr. Nehru asked Bogyoke Aung San what kind of foreign policy Independent Myanmar would adopt in the current international situation of bi-polarization (West Bloc led by Capitalist USA and East Bloc led by Communist Russia USSR.) Bogyoke Aung San replied that he would adopt neutral policy —not joining either bloc, remain friendly with all countries and devoting to internal matters of his country, national rehabilitation, reconstruction, national unification, economic and socio-cultural plannings. Without hesitation Mr. Nehru said he was of the same thinking. Thus Neutralism became the favorite and role model for all Asian, African, Latin American colonies, liberated colonies to adopt because of its wisdom and pragmatism. The changing times, places and circumstances of the post-WWII period proved that neutralism was the right course.
In the years 1955-56, India and all liberated and about to be liberated countries in East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America held an international conference at the capital Bandung. At the time when the Cold War was in full swing, the holding of the Afro-Asian Conference in Indonesia was a great surprise to both East and West Blocs. They underestimated that conference saying that it would not succeed but it would collapse.
Contrary to their negative prediction, the conference did succeed, resulting in the unanimous agreement on Pancha Sila Five Moral Principles for all countries to abide by willingly. Though politically, economically, racially, religiously and culturally different, all countries, all mankind can live together peacefully and work together for their common wealth. Even leaders from the communist countries such as Prime Minister Mr. Chou En Lai of the People’s Republic of China, Marshall Tito of national communist country Yugoslavia, attended the conference and signed the Agreement. Israel and Palestine, Egypt also joined.
Since then, there seemed to emerge another power bloc Neutral Bloc as a counter weight to stabilize the balance of power between West Bloc and East Bloc. But so —called Neutral Bloc is not a bloc in true sense of the term. It has no organization, no office, no constitution, and no media. Just coming together and giving vote together for common good in the UN General Assembly. Nevertheless, both East and West Blocs began paying serious attention to the Neutral Group in the UN and tried to win their friendship by all means.
There emerged criticism and condemnation in the western countries regarding neutralism of Bandung Conference participant countries. Well known among them was the Secretary of State of the US Government Mr. John Foster Dulles who vehemently criticized and condemned neutralism “Neutral countries are dangerous opportunists who take all advantages, aids, etc. from both East and West blocs, but doing nothing for the world. They are like tight-rope walkers in the circus. As long as they can balance on the tight rope it is OK for the time being. But one moment they fall either this side or the other side. If they fall our side, that is good but if they fall other side, they are dangerous. So they are our future enemies. Sitting on the fence will never give you advantage, security or benefit. You are sure to get into trouble one side or other.”
Because of that kind of criticism, Myanmar Government became more cautious in dealing with both blocs. Always alert and careful if aid, assistance and cooperation had any obligation (strings) attached. Myanmar’s foreign policy is always active, cooperative and alert. In every international crisis, Myanmar participated and said and acted what Myanmar thought was right. But Myanmar never broke the UN Charter or Bandung Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence or International Law or International Organizations. To cite but a few cases, when as a result of Egypt’s nationalization of Suez Canal the British, French and their allies bombed Cairo without formal declaration of War. When that crisis was put up in the UN General Assembly, Myanmar openly joined Afro-Asian votes condemning it as a sheer aggression. Not long after that, when the Soviet Army invaded Hungary to put down the Hungarian rebellion, Myanmar condemned it as an aggression.
In the Middle East, Myanmar was of the first group of countries to recognize Israel also Myanmar gave sincere support to the formation of Palestine and internationalization of Jerusalem City.
Though Myanmar is only a medium size country with a comparatively small population and backward in many ways, it is actively taking its role in international affairs. Despite changes in political, economic and social systems, successive governments, military, semi military or civilian, never deviate from its foreign policy, never interfering in domestic affairs of other countries, taking its obligations and commitments dutifully and sincerely. But in keeping with three national causes (1) Non-disintegration of the Federal Union; (2) Non-disintegration of the National Solidarity, and (3) Perpetuation of Sovereignty, Myanmar Government and peoples would defend their country tooth and nail. In her domestic matters and border affairs, Myanmar is dealing domestically or with the stake holder countries. Sincere international advice and cooperation are welcome. But in the guise of international cooperation, any attempt to promote ulterior motives a country, a community of countries, organization would be resisted. Realising the sincere intention and healthy and right actions of Myanmar Government, countries, big and small organizations begin to stand by Myanmar side.
Everything changes, except the Law of Change. That is the permanent law. Rich or poor, Great or small, Strong or weak, Popular or notorious, they are not permanent, always subject to change. We Myanmar harbor no malice to all but charity to all. We believe in the ups and downs of a human life as well as the life of a country or a nation. But with Mena or Loving Kindness, we can also get a true friend when we are in need of him.
Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt,
Maha Saddhamma Jotika Dhaja Sithu
Emeritus Professor, History, Political Science and IR Department, Member of the Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies