France-Burma relations

France-Burma relations

France-Burma relations go back to the early 18th century, as the French East India Company was attempting to extend its influence into Southeast Asia. France started to get involved when it managed to build a shipyard in 1729 in the city of Syriam. The 1740 revolt of the Mon against Burmese rule however forced the French to depart in 1742. They were able to return to Siam in 1751 when the Mon requested French assistance against the Burmese. A French envoy, Sieur de Bruno was sent to evaluate the situation and help in the defense against the Burmese. French warships were sent to support the Mon rebellion, but in vain. In 1756, the Burmese under Alaungpaya vanquished the Mon. Many French were captured and incorporated into the Burmese Army as an elite gunner corps, under Chevalier Milard. In 1769, official contacts resume when a trade treaty was signed between king Hsinbyushin and the French East India Company.

Soon however, France became embroiled in the French revolution and Napoleonic wars, giving way to overwhelming British influence in Burma. French contacts with Burma, effectively a British colony, would become almost non-existent, while from the second half of the 19th century France would concentrate in the establishment of French Indochina and the conflicts with China leading to the Sino-French war.

French shipyard in Syriam (1729–1742)

The Governor-General of French India Joseph François Dupleix had started to show interest in Burma since 1727, on account of the country's abundance in teak and crude oil. As a result, a French shipyard was established in the city of Syriam in 1729, building ships for Pondicherry. [Hall, p. 78] The shipyard was abandoned in 1742 due to the revolt of the Mon. [Hall, p. 78]

Intervention in Burma (1751)

A few years later, a Mon envoy visited Dupleix requesting French help in the fight against the Burmese. ["South-east Asia: A Short History", page 148 by Brian Harrisonndash 1963] Dupleix promised men and munitions and dispatched Sieur de Bruno with the objective of developing French influence in the country. ["Europe and Burma: A Study of European Relations with Burma", page 62 by Daniel George Edward Hall, 1945: "Dupleix promised them men and munitions, but before deciding how far to commit himself he sent over his agent, the Sieur de Bruno, to Pegu".] He arrived at Pegu in July 1751. [Hall, pp. 78–79] Sieur de Bruno reported back that a few hundred French troops would be able to take control of the Irrawaddy delta, trigerring an official request by Dupleix to the French court to obtain the necessary military support. [Hall, p. 79] ["South-east Asia: A Short History", page 148 by Brian Harrison, 1963 "Soon after his arrival in 1751 the agent, Sieur de Bruno, reported back to Pondicherry that the Irrawaddy delta could easily be conquered by a small force".] Sieur de Bruno obtained a treaty ["Burma's Foreign Relations: Neutralism in Theory and Practice", page 14 by Chi Shad Liang, 1990: "In July 1751, Dupleix sent Sieur de Bruno to Burma and negotiated a treaty by which, in return for commercial concessions, the Mons were to receive substancial French aid".] and formed an alliance between France and the Mons. ["The Mandarin Road to Old Hué: Narratives of Anglo-Vietnamese Diplomacy", page 64by Alastair Lamb, 1970: "In 1751 Dupleix sent the Sieur de Bruno to Pegu to initiate an alliance between the French and the Mon Government at Pegu against the Burmans".]

Governor Saunders of Madras attempted to counter the French moves in the region by sending a military force to survey the island of Negrais under Captain Thomas Taylor. He also tried to negociate the cession of Syriam to the British. [Hall, p. 79] The Mons firmly opposed these attempts at British encroachement under the counsel of Sieur de Bruno, who had considerable influence at the Mon court and was especially on excellent terms with the Heir Apparent. [Hall, p. 79] Saunders finally decided to occupy Negrais forcibly, occupying the island on 26 April, 1753. [Hall, p. 79]

However, Dupleix's proposals to take control of the Irrawady delta were rejected by the French government, strongly limiting his capacity to intervene there. [Hall, p. 80]

Participation in the Burman-Mon conflict (1751–1756)

Following their 1740 revolt against Burmese rule, the Mon sacked Ava in 1752, and overan most of Burma, putting an end to the Toungoo dynasty. [The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, page 752, Robert McHenry, 1993: "Assailed from all sides, Ava fell to the Mons in 1752; and the whole of Myanmar passed under Mon rule".] [Encyclopedia Britannica 1970 Page 441 "In 1752 they captured Ava and the Toungoo dynasty finally collapsed"] Soon however, the Burmese were able to repeal the Mons under the leadership of Alaungpaya. ["Fear and Sanctuary" By Hazel J. Lang, p. 28 [] ] The Mons had to retreat, as Alaunpaya first recovered northern Burma, capturing the city of Ava on January 14, 1754. [Hall, p. 77] By February 1755, Central Burma was secured. [Hall, p. 78] The Burmese soon threatened the capital of Pegu, as well as the city of Syriam.

In Syriam, Sieur de Bruno was helping the Mons in organizing their defense. [Hall, pp. 78, 81] ["A History of South-east Asia", page 382, by Daniel George Edward Hall, 1964: "Moreover, the Mons were aided by a brilliant Frenchman, the Sieur de Bruno, whomDupleix had sent some years earlier to Pegu as his agent"] Sieur de Bruno was insistently requesting more help from Pondicherry. [Hall, p. 81] He acted as a military advisor to the Mons, and French warships participated in fighting against the Burmese in Syriam and Dagon (ancient Rangoon). [Findlay, page 277]

Alaungpaya on the other hand was asking the British for guns and ammunitions. [Hall, p. 81] Alaungpaya managed to capture Syriam in July 1756. [Hall, p. 82] Sieur de Bruno and the other French with him were captured and tortured. Two French ships arriving two days after the capture of Syriam, "Fleury" and "Galathée", ["History of Burma" By Harvey G. E. p. 231 [] ] with reinforcements and supplies were also captured by Alaungpaya, when Alaungpaya forced Bruno to write a letter to trick them. The French captains were killed and the 200 sailors forced to join the Burmese army [Hall, p. 82] ["History of Burma" By Harvey G. E. p. 231 [] ] Sieur de Bruno was roasted to death. [Hall, p. 82] From the two ships, Alaugpaya managed to put his hands on 35 ships guns (24 pounders), five field guns, 1300 muskets, and a large quantity of ammunitions. ["History of Burma" By Harvey G. E. p. 231 [] ] France was precluded from further intervention in Burma, with the advent of the Seven Years' War in Europe (1756–1763).

French elite corps

The French troops with their guns and muskets were incorporated in the Burmese army as gunners, and played a key role in the later battles between the Burmese and the Mons. They were treated well and received Burmese wives. ["History of Burma" By Harvey G. E. p. 231 [] ] They became an elite corps, which was to play an important role in the Burmese battles against the Siamese and the Manchus. [Findlay, p. 277] One of them, the Chevalier Milard, was ultimately nominated Captain of the Guard and Master of the Ordnance for the Konbaung dynasty. [Findlay, p. 277]

When they reached old age, the French soldiers were able to retire Shwebo villages, with the spiritual support of a priest. ["History of Burma" By Harvey G. E. p. 231 [] ] To this day, some Catholic villages are still extant in the area where an awareness of some European ancestry remains. ["The Making of Modern Burma" By Thant Myint-U, Myint-U Thant, p. 27 [] ]

Resumption of official contacts (1769)

In 1769, a French embassy led by M. Feraud was sent to resume official French East India Company contacts with Burma. He obtained a trade treaty, and the establishment of a French factory in the city of Rangoon.

The arrival of the embassy was facilitated by Chevalier Milard. The king of Burma Hsinbyushin welcomed Feraud's embassy, ["Burma: A Historical and Political Analysis", page 17by Frank N. Trager, 1966: "he acknowledged the presents of their ambassador, Feraud..."] and accepted Ferraud's offer for trade, in exchange for the supply of guns and ammunitions. [Keat Gin Ooi, p. 611 [] ] The king remitted a letter of agreement, which Feraud brought back to Pondicherry.

Given the previous involvement of the French with the dissident Mon under Sieur de Bruno, the king of Burma clearly specified that French arm trade should involved him only. [The Burmese Polity, 1752–1819 By William J. Koenig [] ] As a result of the embassy, the French obtained a large ground in Rangoon where they were able to establish warehouses. [SOAS, p. 194] [The Burmese Polity, 1752–1819 By William J. Koenig [] ]

Franco-British rivalry (19th century)

With the advent of the French revolution in 1789 and the rise of Napoleon, France became less capable of involvement in faraway theaters such as Burma. Great Britain on the contrary was able to increase its influence, leading to the First Anglo–Burmese War (1823–1826) and the gradual extinction of Burmese sovereignty and independence. After the Second Anglo-Burmese War (1852), the British Empire annexed Lower Burma.

In 1872, king Mindon sent an embassy to Europe, led by his confident, the Kinwun Mingyi, ["The United States and Burma", page 79 by John F. Cady, 1976: "In 1872, Mindon had dispatched a high-level diplomatic mission to Europe, headedby his confidant, the Kinwun Mingyi"] leading to the signature of a commercial treaty with France on January 24, 1873. ["In Search of Southeast Asia" By David P. Chandler, David Joel Steinberg, p. 181 [] ] [ Burma Under British Rule—and Before, page 56 by John Nisbet, 1901 [] ] Further, in 1883, king Thibaw Min attempted to break the stalemate with Great Britain by trying to establish an alliance with France to obtain recognition and aid. This led to strong tensions between France and Great Britain. ["In Search of Southeast Asia" By David P. Chandler, David Joel Steinberg, p. 181 [] ] In the end, in spite of the dispatch of a Burmese mission to Paris, France refused in 1884 to sign a treaty promising that France would come to the support of Burma in case a third power would attack it, only suggesting the possibility of arm shipments from Tonkin. ["In Search of Southeast Asia" By David P. Chandler, David Joel Steinberg, p. 181 [] ] In 1885, the French consul M. Hass moved to Mandalay and negotiated the establishment of a French Bank in Burma, a concession for a railway from Mandalay to the northern border of British Burma and a French role in running monopolies controlled by the Burmese government. A secret treaty signed between Hass and king Thibaw was disclosed. ["An Australian in China" By G. E. Morrison Page 29 [,M1] ] The British reacted with diplomatic force. Charles Bernard, the Chief Commisionner of Lower Burma, warned that "if Ava refuses to stop the treaty, annexation will be inevitable". ["The Making of Modern Burma" By Thant Myint-U, Myint-U Thant, page 188 [] ]

The French government recalled Haas, who was removed allegedly "for reasons of health". While the French had backed down in Burma, the French actions as well as many other events nevertheless convinced the British to take action against Burma. ["The Cambridge History of India", page 437 by Edward James Rapson, Wolseley Haig, Richard Burn, Henry Dodwell, Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler, 1932: "What forced the English to act was that France, having won an empire in Indo-China, now tried to dominate Upper Burma by peaceful penetration."] Finally, the Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885), staged while France was occupied with the Sino-French war (1884–1885), resulted in the total annexation of Burma by Great Britain.

With the completion of British rule in Burma, French contacts with Burma would become almost non-existent, while France would concentrate in the establishment of French Indochina from the second half of the 19th century.

20th century

Following the end of World War II, ambassador-level diplomatic relationships between France and Burma were established in 1948, soon after the Burmese nation became an independent republic on 4 January 1948, as "Union of Burma", with Sao Shwe Thaik as its first President and U Nu as its first Prime Minister.

ee also

*France-Thailand relations
*France-Vietnam relations



* Hall, D. G. E., "Burma", Hutchison's University Library: British Empire History, series editor Sir Reginald Coupland [] Hutchison, 3rd edition, 1960.
*Findlay, Ronald and O'Rourke, Kevin H. (2007) "Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium" []
*Harvey G. E., "History of Burma: From the Earliest Times to 10 March 1824", Asian Educational Services, 2000 ISBN 8120613651, ISBN 9788120613652 []
* Keat Gin Ooi, "Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor" ABC-CLIO, 2004 ISBN 1576077705, ISBN 9781576077702 []
* SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, Vol. 2, No. 2, Autumn 2004, ISSN 1479-8484 ("A voyage to Pegu", translation of "A Voyage to the East-Indies and China; Performed by Order of Lewis XV. Between the Years 1774 and 1781. Containing A Description of the Manners, Religion, Arts, and Scieneces, of the Indians, Chinese, Pegouins, and of the Islanders of Madagascar; Also Observations on the Cape of Good Hope, the Isles of Ceylon, Malacca, the Phillippines, and Moluccas." by Pierre Sonnerat, Commissary of the Marine, (Vol. III, book 4, chapter 2). []

External links

* "Miscellaneous Letters on Burma, 1755–1760, I" []

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