Foreign relations of Burma: Wikis


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Burma's foreign relations with many states (particularly Western nations) are strained, mainly due to its human rights record. However, it generally shares closer connections with some of its neighbor states. Burma (also known as Myanmar) remains a pariah state.

The Burmese government continues to adopt an independent, non-aligned foreign policy.[1]


European Union and the United States

The United States has placed broad sanctions on Burma because of the military crackdown in 1988 and the military regime's refusal to honour the election results of the 1990 People's Assembly election. Similarly, the European Union has placed embargoes on Burma, including an arms embargo, cessation of trade preferences, and suspension of all aid with the exception of humanitarian aid.[2]

US and European government sanctions against the military government, coupled with boycotts and other direct pressure on corporations by western supporters of the Burmese democracy movement, have resulted in the withdrawal from Burma of most U.S. and many European companies. However, several Western companies remain due to loopholes in the sanctions.[3] Asian corporations have generally remained willing to continue investing in Burma and to initiate new investments, particularly in natural resource extraction.

The French oil company Total S.A. is able to operate the Yadana natural gas pipeline from Burma to Thailand despite the European Union's sanctions on Burma. Total is currently the subject of a lawsuit in French and Belgian courts for the condoning and use of Burman civilian slavery to construct the named pipeline. Experts say that the human rights abuses along the gas pipeline are the direct responsibility of Total S.A. and its American partner Chevron with aid and implementation by the Tatmadaw. Prior to its acquisition by Chevron, Unocal settled a similar human rights lawsuit for a reported multi-million dollar amount.[4] There remains active debate as to the extent to which the American-led sanctions have had adverse effects on the civilian population or on the military rulers.[5][6]

Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Burma is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and part of ASEAN+3 and the East Asia Summit. While Burma's presence in ASEAN was seen as a test of the organisation's philosophy of constructive engagement, the presence of Burma in ASEAN however has started to be seen as an embarrassment to the organisation, because of Burma's human rights record and lack of democracy.[7] Burma agreed to relinquish its turn to hold the rotating ASEAN presidency in 2006 due to others member states' concern.[8]

Asean will not defend Burma at any international forum following the military regime's refusal to restore democracy. In April 2007, the Malaysian Foreign Ministry parliamentary secretary Ahmad Shabery Cheek said Malaysia and other Asean members had decided not to defend Burma if the country was raised for discussion at any international conference. "Now Burma has to defend itself if it was bombarded at any international forum," he said when winding up a debate at committee stage for the Foreign Ministry. He was replying to queries from Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang on the next course of action to be taken by Malaysia and Asean with the Burmese military junta. Lim had said Malaysia must play a proactive role in pursuing regional initiatives to bring about a change in Burma and support efforts to bring the situation in Burma to the UN Security Council's attention. [9] Recently, ASEAN has taken a stronger tone with Burma, particularly regards to the ongoing detention of Aung San Suu Kyi.[10]

Bilateral relations



Despite border (both territorial and nautical) tensions and the forced migration of 270,000 Rohingya Muslims from Buddhist Burma in 1978, relations have generally been cordial albeit at times tense.

Many Rohingya refugees, not recognised as an ethnic group and allegedly suffering abuse by the Burmese state,[11] remain in Bangladesh, and have been threatened with forced repatriation back to Burma.[12] There are about 28,000 documented refugees remaining in camps in southern Bangladesh.[13]

At the 2008 ASEAN Regional forum summit in Singapore, Bangladesh and Myanmar have pledged to solve their maritime border disputes as quickly as possible especially that a UN deadline in claiming maritime territories will expire in three years time.[14] However in late 2008, Myanmar sent in ships into disputed waters in the Bay of Bengal for exploration of oil and natural gas.[15] Bangladesh responded by sending in three war ships to the area and diplomatically pursued efforts to pressure the Myanmar junta to withdraw the ships.[16][17] During the crisis Myanmar deployed thousands of troops on its border with Bangladesh. However within a week the ships withdrew and the crisis ended.[18]

People's Republic of China

The People's Republic of China had poor relations with Burma until the late 1980s. Between 1967 and 1970, Burma broke relations with Beijing because of the latters support for the Communist Party of Burma (CPB).[19] Deng Xiaoping visited Yangon in 1978 and withdrew support for the long running insurgency of the Communist Party of Burma.[19] However, in the early 1950s Burma enjoyed a hot-and-cold relationship with China. Burma's U Thant and U Nu lobbied for China's entry as a permanent member into the Security Council, but denounced the invasion of Tibet.[20]

China and Burma had many border disputes, long before British annexation of Burma. The last border dispute culminated in 1956, when the People's Liberation Army invaded northern Burma, but were repulsed.[21] A border agreement was reached in 1960.[22]

In the late 1960s, due to Ne Win's propaganda that the Chinese were responsible for crop failures, and the increasing number of ethnic Chinese students supporting Mao Zedong, by carrying the Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong books, anti-Chinese riots broke out in June 1967.[23] At the same time, many Sino-Burmese were influenced by the Cultural Revolution in China and began to wear Mao badges.[24] Shops and homes were ransacked and burned. The Chinese government heavily berated the Burmese government and started a word war, but no other actions were taken. The anti-Chinese riots continued till the early 1970s.

However, after 1986, China withdrew support for the CPB[25] and began supplying the military junta with the majority of its arms in exchange for increased access to Burmese markets and a rumoured navy base on Coco Islands in the Andaman Sea. China is supposed to have an intelligence gathering station on the Great Coco Island to monitor Indian naval activity as well as ISRO & DRDO missile and space launch activities. The influx of Chinese arms turned the tide in Burma against the ethnic insurgencies, many of which had relied indirectly on Chinese complicity. As a result the military junta of Burma is highly reliant on the Chinese for their currently high level of power.

Burma has an embassy in Beijing and consulates-general in Kunming and Hong Kong.

Republic of China

Although Burma does not officially recognize the Republic of China, there is much other interaction between the two countries. Many Taiwanese own businesses in Burma, and the Chinese community in major Burmese cities, like Yangon are closer to Taiwan than Mainland China. Another fact would be the existence of a direct flight route to Taipei, along with direct flight routes to some major cities in China, including Kunming, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Air China also operates a direct flight (CA905) linking Beijing and Yangon. In 2009 both countries signed a trade pact.[26]


France-Burma relations go back to the early 18th century, as the French East India Company was attempting to extend its influence into Southeast Asia. France started to get involved when it managed to build a shipyard in 1729 in the city of Syriam.[27] The 1740 revolt of the Mon against Burmese rule however forced the French to depart in 1742.[28] They were able to return to Siam in 1751 when the Mon requested French assistance against the Burmese. A French envoy, Sieur de Bruno was sent to evaluate the situation and help in the defense against the Burmese. French warships were sent to support the Mon rebellion, but in vain. In 1756, the Burmese under Alaungpaya vanquished the Mon. Many French were captured and incorporated into the Burmese Army as an elite gunner corps, under Chevalier Milard. In 1769, official contacts resumed when a trade treaty was signed between King Hsinbyushin and the French East India Company.[29]

Soon however, France became embroiled in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, giving way to overwhelming British influence in Burma. French contacts with Burma, effectively a British colony, would become almost non-existent, while from the second half of the 19th century France would concentrate in the establishment of French Indochina and the conflicts with China leading to the Sino-French War. Following the end of World War II, ambassador-level diplomatic relationships between France and Burma were established in 1948, soon after the Burmese nation became an independent republic on January 4, 1948, as Union of Burma, with Sao Shwe Thaik as its first President and U Nu as its first Prime Minister.


As a result of increased Chinese influence in Burma as well as the safe haven and arms trafficking occurring along the Indo-Burmese border, India has sought in recent years to shore up ties with the military junta.[30][31] Numerous economic arrangements have been established including a roadway connecting the isolated provinces of Northeastern India with Mandalay which opens up trade with China, Burma, and gives access to the Burmese ports. Relations between India and Burma have been strained in the past however due to India's continuing support for the pro-democracy movement in Burma.[32]

In an interview on the BBC, George Fernandes, former Indian Defence Minister and prominent Burma critic, said that Coco Island was part of India until it was donated to Burma by former Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru. Coco Island is located at 18 km from the Indian Nicobar Islands.[33]

Burma has an embassy in New Delhi.

North Korea

In 1983, North Korean agents attempted to assassinate then South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan during a visit to Burma. Although the President was unharmed, 21 people were killed in the bombing, including the South Korean deputy Prime Minister, and Burma suspended diplomatic relations in response.[34] Relations were normalized in April 2007 during a visit by North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong-il to Burma.[35] Since then, it has been reported that North Korean workers are helping to build secret underground tunnels, for an emergency shelter and other unknown purposes, in Burma.[36]


Pakistan and Myanmar have cordial relations with each other, with embassies in their respective capitals.


Bilateral relations with the Russian Federation are the strongest enjoyed by largely-isolated Myanmar. Russia had established diplomatic relations with Myanmar (then known as Burma), when it became independent and it remained so even today after the fall of the Soviet Union. China and Russia once vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution designed to punish Burma.[37][38]. Today Russia, along with China, still opposes placing sanctions on Myanmar and wants to support a policy of dialogue. Russia, along with China, remain part of the Security council which occasionally shields or weakens Myanmar from global pressure and criticism.


Relations between Burma and Thailand focus mainly on economic issues and trade. There is sporadic conflict with Thailand over the alignment of the border. Recently, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva made clear that dialogue encouraging political change is a priority for Thailand, but not through economic sanctions. He also made clear to reconstruct temples damaged in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.[39] However, there has been increasing tension over the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi between the two countries, with Thailand calling for her release.[40]

Burma has an embassy in Bangkok.

United States

The political relationship between the United States and Burma worsened after the 1988 military coup and violent suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations. Subsequent repression, including the brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors in September 2007, further strained the relationship.

Timeline of diplomatic representation

Countries that maintain ambassador-level relations with Burma. Note that not all of these countries maintain embassies in the country

Below are the years that countries have established ambassador-level diplomatic relationships with Burma.

  • 1947: Pakistan, United Kingdom, United States of America
  • 1948: France, India, Netherlands, Russia, Thailand
  • 1949: Indonesia, Sri Lanka
  • 1950: Italy, China (as People's Republic of China), Serbia (as Yugoslavia)
  • 1953: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Egypt, Israel
  • 1954: Finland, Germany, Japan
  • 1955: Cambodia, Denmark, Poland
  • 1956: Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic and Slovakia), Hungary, Iraq, Lao, Mongolia, Norway, Philippines, Romania, Sweden
  • 1957: Switzerland
  • 1958: Canada, Greece, New Zealand, Malaysia, Turkey
  • 1960: Nepal
  • 1966: Singapore
  • 1967: Spain
  • 1968: Algeria, Iran
  • 1970: Maldives, Nigeria
  • 1972: Bangladesh, Syria
  • 1975: Argentina, North Korea (withdrawn from 1983-but reinstated 2007), South Korea, Vietnam
  • 1976: Albania, Cuba, Mauritania, Mexico, Portugal
  • 1977: Costa Rica
  • 1978: Mauritius, Morocco
  • 1982: Brazil, Chile, Panama
  • 1985: Cyprus
  • 1987: Vanuatu
  • 1988: Colombia
  • 1989: Peru
  • 1990: Venezuela
  • 1991: Papua New Guinea
  • 1993: Brunei
  • 1995: Ghana, South Africa
  • 1997: Kenya
  • 1998: Kuwait
  • 1999: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Croatia, Georgia, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine
  • 2000: Kyrgyzstan
  • 2001: Uruguay, Uzbekistan
  • 2003: Macedonia
  • 2005: Ireland, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan
  • 2006: Montenegro, Slovenia
  • 2007: North Korea
  • 2009: Zimbabwe,[41] Bahrain[42]

United Nations

In 1961, U Thant, then Burma's Permanent Representative to the United Nations and former Secretary to the Prime Minister, was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations; he was the first non-Westerner to head any international organization and would serve as UN Secretary-General for ten years.[43] Among the Burmese to work at the UN when he was Secretary-General was the young Aung San Suu Kyi.

Until 2005, the United Nations General Assembly annually adopted a detailed resolution about the situation in Burma by consensus.[44][44][45][46][47] But in 2006 a divided United Nations General Assembly voted through a resolution that strongly called upon the government of Burma to end its systematic violations of human rights.[48]

In January 2007, Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution before the United Nations Security Council[49] calling on the government of Myanmar to respect human rights and begin a democratic transition. South Africa also voted against the resolution, arguing that since there were no peace and security concerns raised by its neighbours, the question did not belong in the Security Council when there were other more appropriate bodies to represent it, adding, "Ironically, should the Security Council adopt [this resolution] ... the Human Rights Council would not be able to address the situation in Myanmar while the Council remains seized with the matter."[50] The issue had been forced onto the agenda against the votes of Russia and the China[51] by the United States (veto power applies only to resolutions) claiming that the outflow from Burma of refugees, drugs, HIV-AIDS, and other diseases threatened international peace and security.[52]

The following September after the uprisings began and the human rights situation deteriorated, the Secretary-General dispatched his special envoy for the region, Ibrahim Gambari, to meet with the government.[53] After seeing most parties involved, he returned to New York and briefed the Security Council about his visit.[54] During this meeting, the ambassador said that the country "indeed [has experienced] a daunting challenge. However, we have been able to restore stability. The situation has now returned to normalcy. Currently, people all over the country are holding peaceful rallies within the bounds of the law to welcome the successful conclusion of the national convention, which has laid down the fundamental principles for a new constitution, and to demonstrate their aversion to recent provocative demonstrations.[55]

On 11 October the Security Council met and issued a statement and reaffirmed its "strong and unwavering support for the Secretary-General's good offices mission", especially the work by Ibrahim Gambari[56] (During a briefing to the Security Council in November, Gambari admitted that no timeframe had been set by the Government for any of the moves that he had been negotiating for.)[57]

Throughout this period the World Food Program has continued to organize shipments from the Mandalay Division to the famine-struck areas to the north.[58]

In December 2008, the United Nations General Assembly voted for a resolution condemning Burma's human rights record; it was supported by 80 countries, with 25 voting against and 45 abstaining.[59]

See also


  1. ^ Foreign Policy : Emergence of Foreign Policy. Foreign Ministry of Myanmar
  2. ^ "The EU's relations with Burma / Myanmar". European Union. Retrieved 2006-07-13.  
  3. ^ The List: Burma’s Economic Lifelines. Foreign Policy. October 2007
  4. ^ "Dilemma of dealing with Burma". BBC News. 2004-10-20. Retrieved 2004-11-02.  
  5. ^ "How Best to Rid the World of Monsters". Washington Post. 2003-06-23. Retrieved 2006-05-24.  
  6. ^ "Reuters Belgian group seeks Total boycott over Myanmar". Ibiblio (Reuters). 1999-05-10. Retrieved 2006-06-24.  
  7. ^ JK Post. The Jakarta Post. March 1, 2006
  8. ^ More Deadly Than Avian Flu (Or Why the Myanmar Regime Must Implement The Road Map To Democracy). Speech of Senator Aquilino Q. Pimentel Jr. at the ASEAN Inter-parliamentary Myanmar Caucus-Good Governance Conference at the Prince Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, December 2, 2005
  9. ^ "Asean Will Not Defend Myanmar At International Fora - Ahmad Shabery". Bernama. 2007-04-19.  
  10. ^ Asian leaders condemn Burma trial. BBC News Online. May 19, 2009
  11. ^ What drives the Rohingya to sea?. BBC News Onlnine. February 5, 2009
  12. ^ Concern over Bangladesh refugees. BBC News Online. June 19, 2009
  13. ^ Bangladesh: Rohingya refugee camps improved. UNHCR. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). November 7, 2008
  14. ^ Bangladesh, Myanmar pledge to resolve disputes over maritime borders. IRNA.
  15. ^ Bangladesh and Burma in oil row. BBC News Online. November 3, 2008
  16. ^ Bangladesh Sends Three Navy Ships to Border Dispute. Narinjara News. November 4, 2008
  17. ^ Bangladesh-Burma (Myanmar) maritime boundary dispute escalates. Christian Science Monitor. November 4, 2008
  18. ^ Burma and Bangladesh agree to boost ties. Mizzima News. May 25, 2008
  19. ^ a b Singh (2003)
  20. ^ Bingham (1966), p. 9
  21. ^ Silverstein (1980), p. 209
  22. ^ Laqueur (1974), p. 67
  23. ^ Seekins (2006), p. 141
  24. ^ Lintner (1990), p. 23
  25. ^ Pillali, Sushil K. The Invisible Country Ethnicity & Conflict Management in Myanmar. South Asia Terroism Portal. Institue for Conflict Management
  26. ^ Taiwan, Burma sign trade pact. Mizzima. June 15, 2009
  27. ^ South (2003), p. 79
  28. ^ Liang (1990), p. 14
  29. ^ Bhuyan (1974), p. 460
  30. ^ Jagan, Larry. India's road to Rangoon. BBC News Online. February 14, 2001
  31. ^ "India, Burma to discuss insurgency, arms smuggling in Rangoon". Press Trust of India. October 11, 2005
  32. ^ Bhattacharyya, Anushree. "India-Myanmar Relations". Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS). September 18, 2007
  33. ^ Nanda (2003), p. 596
  34. ^ Explosion Strikes at Memorial, Ocala Star, October 10, 1983
  35. ^ Burma, North Korea restore ties, BBC News Online, April 26, 2007
  36. ^ N. Korea Digs Tunnels for Myanmar's Secretive Regime. The Korea Times, June 14, 2009
  37. ^ Chinese dilemma over Burma (25 September 2007). BBC. Accessed 2008-05-30.
  38. ^ Russia, China veto resolution criticizing Burma (January 13, 2007). Washington Post. Accessed 2008-05-30.
  39. ^ Abhisit calls for change in Burma, Bangkok Post, January 12, 2009.
  40. ^ Thai-Burma relations under "unprecedented strain". DVB. June 12, 2009
  41. ^ Diplomatic relations established between Union of Myanmar and Republic of Zimbabwe. New Light of Myanmar. August 28, 2009.
  42. ^ Myanmar establishes diplomatic ties with Bahrain. Xinhua. November 12, 2009.
  43. ^ Aung Zaw. "Can Another Asian Fill U Thant's Shoes?". The Irrawaddy September 2006. Retrieved 2006-09-12.  
  44. ^ a b United Nations General Assembly Verbotim Report meeting 83 session 54 page 30, The President on 17 December 1999 at 10:00 (retrieved 2007-09-25)
  45. ^ United Nations General Assembly Verbotim Report meeting 81 session 55 page 22, The President on 4 December 2000 at 15:00 (retrieved 2007-09-25)
  46. ^ United Nations General Assembly Verbotim Report meeting 92 session 56 page 7 on 24 December 2001 at 11:00 (retrieved 2007-09-25)
  47. ^ United Nations General Assembly Verbotim Report meeting 69 session 60 page 19, The President on 23 December 2005 at 10:00 (retrieved 2007-09-25)
  48. ^ United Nations General Assembly Verbotim Report meeting 84 session 61 page 14 on 22 December 2006 at 10:00 (retrieved 2007-09-25)
  49. ^ United Nations Security Council Document 14 S-2007-14 on 12 January 2007 (retrieved 2007-09-25)
  50. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbotim Report meeting 5619 page 3, Mr. Kumalo South Africa on 12 January 2007 at 16:00 (retrieved 2007-09-25)
  51. ^ "UN Security Council to include Burma in its agenda". BBC News. 18 September 2006. Retrieved 2006-11-17.  
  52. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbotim Report meeting 5526 page 3, Mr. Bolton United States on 15 September 2006 at 13:35 (retrieved 2007-09-25)
  53. ^ "Ban Ki-moon dispatches Myanmar envoy to region as situation worsens". United Nations. 26 September 2007.  
  54. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbotim Report meeting 5753 page 3, Mr. Gambari Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on 5 October 2007 at 10:00 (retrieved 2007-10-09)
  55. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbotim Report meeting 5753 page 17, Mr. Swe Myanmar on 5 October 2007 at 10:00 (retrieved 2007-10-09)
  56. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report meeting 5757 on 11 October 2007 (retrieved 2007-10-15)
  57. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbotim Report meeting 5777 page 2, Mr. Gambari on 13 November 2007 (retrieved 2007-11-15)
  58. ^ "Myanmar: UN to resume delivering food in Mandalay District". United Nations. 30 September 2007.  
  59. ^ UN General Assembly condemns Myanmar. Taipei Times. December 26, 2008


  • Bhuyan, Suryya Kumar. (1974). Anglo-Assamese relations, 1771-1826: a history of the relations of Assam with the East India Company from 1771 to 1826, based on original English and Assamese sources. Lawyer's Book Stall.
  • Bingham, June. (1966). U Thant; the Search for Peace. Gollancz.
  • Laqueur, Walter. (1974). A dictionary of politics. Free Press.
  • Liang, Chi Shad. (1990). Burma's foreign relations: neutralism in theory and practice. Praeger. ISBN 978-0275934552
  • Lintner, Bertil. (1990). The rise and fall of the Communist Party of Burma (CPB). SEAP Publications. ISBN 978-0877271239
  • Nanda, Prakesh. (2003). Rediscovering Asia: evolution of India's look-east policy. Lancer Publishers & Distributors. ISBN 978-8170622970
  • Seekins, Donald M. (2006). Historical dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0810854765
  • Singh, N. K. (2003). Encyclopaedia of Bangladesh. Anmol Publications PVT. LTD. ISBN 978-8126113903
  • Silverstein, Josef. (1980). Burmese politics: the dilemma of national unity. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0813509006
  • South, Ashley. (2003). Mon Nationalism and Civil War in Burma: The Golden Sheldrake. Routledge. ISBN 978-0700716098

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