Lost Footsteps
Lost Footsteps
British government issues "White Paper" on Burma
event_note History Timeline

17 May 1945

British government issues "White Paper" on Burma

room United Kingdom

မြန်မာဘာသာဖြင့် ဖတ်ရန်

On 17 May 1945, the British government issued its "White Paper" on the future of Burma. Burma's "Anti-Fascist Organization" (later AFPFL) under General Aung San opposed the programme outlined in the White Paper, leading first to a standoff against the returned British authorities, then to negotiations in London in January 1946 and finally independence outside the Commonwealth in 1948.

The White Paper proposed the following: (1) A period of "direct rule" by the Governor (assisted by an "Executive Council" of Burmese leaders), economic rehabilitation and reconstruction (the country was in ruins at the time), and then elections before May 1948; (2) The convening of a new Burmese parliament under the 1935 Burma Act that would chose a new Premier and government but also draft a new constitution and (3) Eventually independence but as a "Dominion" (as Australia, Canada) within the Commonwealth.

The goal of Dominion status (rather than independence as a Republic outside the Commonwealth), as well as the exclusion of "Scheduled Areas" (eg the Shan States) from the plan, were seen as unacceptable to the AFO and many other Burmese nationalists.

The Governor Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith returned to Rangoon in October 1945. He had visited unofficially in June. He was charged with implementing the White Paper but found himself in direct conflict with the AFPFL, a conflict which ended with the Governor's recall in June 1946 and the British decision to quit Burma as soon as possible.

What's important to note is this: the British Labour government's decision in 1946 to quit Burma was taken not so much because of what was happening in Burma itself, but because of other international events: India and Palestine were quickly spiraling out of control, with fighting between Muslims and Hindus in India and between Jews and Arabs in Palestine claiming thousands of lives. Burma was a sideshow and implementing the White Paper in Burma was not a priority.

Acceptance of the White Paper may well have set Burma on the same course as Malaysia and Singapore - for independence only in the late 1950s (for better or worse). It would also likely have led to a communist insurrection against the colonial authorities, drawing Burma into Cold War hostilities. We can only speculate what may then have been the course of relations between "Burma proper" and the "Scheduled Areas" (the Shan and Karenni states, the Chin, Karen and Kachin hills).

The photo shows Lt. General Sir William Slim, General Officer in Chief of the 14th Army, Air Vice Marshall Vincent, and Major General Chambers at Government House, shortly after the recapture of Rangoon, 8 May 1945.

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