Reconnecting with Burma

Reconnecting Britain with Burma

Maybe a time for reflection as Prime Minister David Cameron goes to Burma.

Britains links with Burma go back nearly 200 years and they haven’t always been filled with as much warmth as todays meeting will be.

  • From the mid 1700’s the Burmese became very powerful in SE Asia and by the early 1820’s had conquered territory adjacent to Bengal.
  • Britain at that time was fast consolidating it’s hold on Indian affairs and when 10,000 refugees escaped the Burmese into Indian territory we refused to return them, the Burmese were claiming them as slaves.
  • War was declared on Britain, which came as a bit of an unwanted shock but their hand was forced by the Burmese occupying an island Britain had claimed as it’s own.
    • The ensuing war brought British troops to their knees, they were unused to the guerilla tactics and jungle warfare and they succumbed to disease and starvation. Over the two year duration of the war, 20,000 troops were lost.

The war was ‘won’ by Britain but the costs to both sides were enormous. The financial strain on British India was almost it’s undoing, prompting a severe economic crisis. It cost the East India Company it’s remaining privileges, including it’s trade monopoly with China.

    • The Burmese were brought to financial ruin as they tried to comply with the severe demands of the Treaty of Yandobo.
    • The British went to war twice more with Burma, in 1852 and then again in 1885. After this last short conflict, Burma lost it’s sovereignty and came under the rule of the British Raj.

Why did we go to such lengths?

    • One reason was to keep the French out of India (they had important links with Burma), it held a crucial position between India and China and Burma had huge natural resources, in teak and oil, as well as being the biggest producer of rice in the region.

Burma’s economy boomed  and Britain prospered.

    • From 1937 Britain ruled Burma as a separate colony until a parlimentary government was formed in 1948.
    • So now Britain is keen to embark on a new relationship with Burma, probably still with a keen eye on the trade deals to be done.
    • It’s geographic position is unaltered, it sits between two great powers whose economies are growing at a huge rate.

So after 200 years, a little bit of history repeats itself , with the magical place names of Mandalay and Rangoon reminding us all of our historically strong connections with Burma

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