Learning to share: Back to Panglong

  • Written by Sai Khuensai/S.H.A.N
  • Published in Analysis
Sao Yawdserk shaking hands with Gen Gun Maw on arrival to the meeting, June 2016. (Photo: Tai Freedom) Sao Yawdserk shaking hands with Gen Gun Maw on arrival to the meeting, June 2016. (Photo: Tai Freedom)

On 7-8 June 2016, three ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) — Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA), Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), and Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) — met in Chiangmai.

The other EAO that was invited but wasn’t able to make it due to the fact that it coincided with its own long planned meeting was the Chin National Front (CNF).

The purpose of the meeting was to review the 1947 Panglong Conference and what it meant for the non-Burmans as a whole, before joining the Union Peace Conference (21st Century Panglong) sometime in August, as planned by Naypyitaw.

Putting it another way, it was a meeting “to look back before moving ahead.”

Burma, Chin, Kachin and Shan were co-signatories to the Panglong Agreement (12 February 1947) that led to the formation of the Union of Burma, now restyled the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (RUM).

Day One. Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)

The meeting begins with a friendly banter from Dr Laja: “The Chins were late during the 1947 Panglong. They are doing that again now.”

The first topic on the agenda is to explore the reasons why non-Burmans need to return to the original Panglong before embarking on the 21st Century one. The following is the summing up of their discussions:

  • If we refuse to consider the 1947 Panglong, and start a completely new Panglong, all the trust that has been accumulated throughout the past few years will be wasted.
  • Just adopting the name “Panglong” but not its substance will render the whole effort meaningless
  • Among the non-Burmans, Chin, Kachin and Shan, as original co-founders of the Union, bear primary responsibility
  • Because there was the 1947 Panglong, there is the Union. If we are not going to honor it, the Union will only fall apart
  • Panglong is essential not only for the signatories, but also for the non-signatories. Because it was through Panglong and the resultant Union, new member states came into being. (Before independence, Karen, Arakan and Mon were part of Ministerial Burma. Only the Karenni or Kayah was an “independent” state.)

How Panglong came into being

That is the next topic on the agenda, and the following are their conclusions:

  • Before Panglong, Chin, Kachin, Shan, and others were separate political entities from Burma, then also known as Burma Proper or Ministerial Burma. Each had its own constitutions called “regulations” or “acts”.
  • Due to the Atlantic Charter, signed on 14 August 1941, that promised the right of self determination and restoration of self-government to those deprived of it, each and all were aspiring to become independent nations. However, Aung San wanted to convince them it would be “better together”, which is one reason he came to Panglong, where Chins, Kachins ans Shans were holding a conference.
  • Another reason which was imperative was the terms of his agreement in London on 27 January required him to be there to ask the leaders and representatives of the people of Frontier Areas (as non-Ministerial Burma areas were known) “to express their views upon the form of association with the government of Burma which they consider acceptable”
  • The Panglong Agreement was the outcome of a historic necessity. It is collectively owned
  • Its main objective was to achieve independence at the same time with Burma, which had been guaranteed “within one year,” and not later

Panglong Agreement

The 9 article Panglong Agreement, to summarize, contains 5 key points:

  • The people of Frontier Areas shall be responsible for the affairs of the Frontier Areas
  • “Full autonomy in internal administration”
  • Creation of a Kachin State
  • Democracy and human rights
  • Financial autonomy

Panglong promises

Other than the agreement, Aung San had also agreed, during the conference, to a 5 point demand by the Chin-Kachin-Shan committee that had formed the first non-Burman alliance in modern history — the Supreme Council of the United Hill Peoples (SCOUHP):

  • Same status, rights and privileges
  • “Self rule” in respective internal affairs and “Shared rule” in common subjects
  • A distinct separate Kachin State
  • Aung San-Atlee agreement not binding on Chin, Kachin, and Shan
  • The right to secede “if and when we choose”

The meeting takes note that the right to secession, which was later enacted by the 1947 constitution, has been a constant specter over successive Burmese governments.

“The rights come first,” says a participant.”If the rights were honored, there should be no fear of secession, whether or not it’s in the constitution.”

The meaning of “Bamar One Kyat, Shan/Kachin One Kyat”, as promised by Aung San, is also discussed. Tun Myint Taunggyi had explained in his 1957 “Shanland’s Grievances”:

According to the 1952-53 Fiscal Year statistics:

                        Population       Expense per capita       Expense per capita (by percentage)

Burma Proper 14.7 million      15.63 Kyat                    1 Kyat

Shan State       1.6 million        7.55 Kyat                      0.48 Kyat

Which clearly demonstrates that even in the 14 year democratic days, it was “Bamar one Kyat, Shan half a Kyat” in practice.

The Panglong Spirit

The following is the interpretation as agreed by the meeting:

The Panglong Spirit means the deep wish to abide by and fulfill the Panglong Agreement and the mutual promises solemnly made between Gen Aung San and the ethnic leaders.

“One who has the spirit will not go back on one’s promises. And one who keeps one’s promises will honor the Agreement,” remarks Gen Yawdserk.

Hail to the 21st Century Panglong

The afternoon session begins with a statement by Gen N Banla, leader of the KIO, saying:

  • We heartily welcome and support the planned 21st Century Panglong
  • We hope it will be the Conference that sets out to bring about the substance of the 1947 Panglong Agreement

Another leader speaks of lingering questions for the State Counselor, who first coined the “21st Century Panglong:”

  • Who will be the owner (s) of this conference? Shall we be joint owners or just participating there as invited guests?
  • How should the representatives be chosen?
  • The role of the international and regional community

One other leader,, who is better versed in legal matters, speaks about whether the Panglong Agreement is a “voidable contract,” meaning one which can be made null and void by a party if the said party so chooses.

Unfortunately, there isn’t anyone else in the meeting who can answer this. But everyone agrees it is a matter to be pursued further.

The meeting adjourns with a decision to draft a “Panglong Handbook” to be consulted by all those concerned with peace in Burma.