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Historical documents

213 Williams to Chifley

Letter CANBERRA, 1 February 1949


I have been asked to pass to you at once the enclosed top secret
message from my Prime Minister regarding an approach made by the
Government of Burma to the United Kingdom Government. I enclose
also the general appreciation referred to at the beginning of
paragraph 2 of the message. The matter is clearly one of a high
degree of urgency and secrecy and Mr. Attlee will, I am sure, be
grateful if you could let him have a very early reply to the
enquiry in the fifth paragraph of his message.


The Burmese Government have approached His Majesty's Government in
the United Kingdom for substantial loans totalling over 25
million to cover budget deficit and to finance procurement of the
rice crop. Further sums may be necessary for other purposes.

2. I am sending you separately a general appreciation of the
position in Burma. [1] Maintenance of stability in Burma and
retention of Thakin Nu's Government to which we see no effective
alternative, seems to us a matter of vital interest and importance
to all Commonwealth Governments which have interests in the
security of South East Asia or which are dependent on Burma for
essential supplies. If Thakin Nu's Government were to fall,
reactions on the whole movement for self-government and democracy
in Asia would be disastrous. We have consistently supported Thakin
Nu and we are anxious to continue to help him in every way open to
us and we hope that other Commonwealth Governments which are
closely concerned in the maintenance of stability in South East
Asia will all of them share our view. The United Kingdom
Government because of its special responsibilities at the present
time in Malaya has also to consider the reactions in that area of
any breakdown in Burma.

3. We have in these circumstances anxiously considered how best to
deal with the very threatening situation that seems to be
developing. We are very anxious to give Burma any assistance that
is in our power. But the position is not a simple one. Burmese
national feeling, always extremely sensitive, might well distrust
any offer of assistance which came only from the United Kingdom
Government and opponents of Thakin Nu would find it easy to
misrepresent in the most damaging way support only from the United
Kingdom Government as a reimposition of British control and a
surrender to 'foreign capitalism' with which we know they continue
to make great play.

4. Primarily because we regard the situation as one of deep
concern to other Commonwealth nations with interests in South East
Asia, but also for the reason just stated, we feel that any
approach to Burma should come from those Commonwealth countries
including of course the United Kingdom. I have taken preliminary
soundings of the Premiers of India and Pakistan which have a
common frontier with Burma and I find that Pandit Nehru and Mr.

Liaquat Ali Khan are fully in agreement with this view. I have
arranged with their agreement that Mr. Arthur Bottomley,
Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Board of Trade will go out to
Karachi and Delhi, leaving here on Thursday the 3rd February for
preliminary talks confidentially with the Pakistan and Indian
Governments on this matter. It is obviously of great importance to
do nothing which would embarrass Thakin Nu and Bottomley's visit
will therefore be announced as being for the purpose of trade

5. I should be most grateful if you could let me know whether your
Government would be prepared to consider joining with other
closely interested Commonwealth Governments in an offer of
assistance to Burma. I will in any case inform you after
Bottomley's preliminary discussions in Karachi and Delhi how the
matter is developing. At a later stage it may be appropriate to
arrange a discussion at which those Commonwealth Governments who
are willing to participate in such an offer could all be

1 Not published. The appreciation stressed the economic and
strategic significance of Burma to the Commonwealth in general and
south-east Asia in particular, and painted a gloomy picture of
administrative confusion and internal conflict.

[AA: A6537, SEATS 4/1]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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