Burma, the State of Myanmar

By David I. Steinberg | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Foreign Assistance:
Tensions and Needs

I tell you that no country can ever be really free as long as she depends
on the charity of foreigners for her revenues. We must achieve our free-
dom by ourselves with our own money.

—Aung San, 19471

Since independence, there has been tension between Burma’s need for foreign assistance to help accomplish the economic goals the state has set for itself and its dependence on external influences. This strain is further intensified by the nationalistic sentiment inherent in all regimes since 1948 that calls for autonomy, neutrality, and self-reliance. This has meant that such assistance has had to be couched in language and attributes that were not perceived to undercut the sovereignty of any regime. Military authorities have continuously maintained that any assistance could not have strings attached, but in fact strings were always involved; the issue was what kinds of strings. Traditionally, even while becoming indebted to foreign organizations, Burma maintained a fictive neutrality. When the Soviet Union gave assistance in the 1950s, Burma repaid the assistance with rice. When the U. S. foreign assistance program was expelled from Burma for covert support to Chinese Nationalist troops in the Shan State in the early 1950s, the Burmese government picked up the costs for the American technical assistance program from its own funds.

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