When “Panchsheel” failed Myanmar

Updated - November 17, 2021 04:57 am IST

Published - June 27, 2014 10:25 pm IST - BEIJING:

U Nu, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Myanmar, was along with Jawaharlal Nehru and former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai a founding advocate of “Panchsheel” — the “five principles of peaceful coexistence” to guide relations between nations that was conceived of 60 years ago this Saturday.

To mark the event, Vice-President Hamid Ansari and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be joined by Myanmar’s President, Thein Sein. The three leaders will preside over a grand commemoration at the Great Hall of the People here on Saturday.

U Nu was deposed by the military in a 1962 coup, spending years in jail before going to India in exile. The former Prime Minister will be represented on Saturday by his daughter, Than Than Nu, a vocal proponent of political reforms and the Secretary General of the Democratic Party of Myanmar.

The story of the U Nu family has underlined the limits — some would say failures — of the “five principles”. Than Than Nu was 22 when she was forced to go with her family to Thailand and eventually India, which would become her home for two decades.

In New Delhi, she worked for All India Radio, becoming hugely popular back home for her broadcasts in Burmese, providing information censored by the junta. “Mr. Rajiv Gandhi gave us permission to broadcast on Burma for 20 minutes every day,” she said. A decade later, India forced her to stop the broadcasts. The military regime had objected. Than Than Nu’s 20-year career with AIR ended. One of the five tenets of “Panchsheel” is non-interference in the “internal affairs” of countries. Did this notion, embraced by India and China, hurt Myanmar at the time? “It is very difficult to say,” Than Than Nu said, replying after a long pause. “It is difficult to say.”

Was she upset when India stopped her broadcasts at the behest of the military government? “India is the biggest democracy in the world. That should not happen,” she said. Than Than Nu does not think the changes will see Myanmar move away from China. “China helps Myanmar in many ways. Especially when the whole world boycotted Myanmar,” she said.

But didn't China help prop up the military government? “When you look at a coin, it has two sides,” she said. “You cannot look at only one side”.

Today, the changes in Myanmar and opening up have left her optimistic. “It is a very good sign, but we have to be patient.” Than Than Nu does, however, still see merit in the founding ideals espoused by her father. “What we should remember is that at the time, the five principles were successful in many ways,” she said. “Yes, today the situation is not smooth going. But one thing is very sure: at the time, the three leaders were very sincere about what they were doing, and that is what we should remember.”

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