By Charitha Ratwatte –
The story begins in 1951, to be precise, on 8 April. The day on which the Treaty of San Francisco, between Japan and part of the Allied Powers who fought World War II, was signed. It was signed by 48 nations, at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco.
The Treaty came into force on 28 April 1952. This Treaty served officially to end World War II. It ended Japan’s position as an imperial power, it allocated compensation to Allied civilians and former prisoners of war who had suffered Japanese war crimes, and to end the Allies’ military occupation of Japan and return sovereignty to that defeated nation.
The Treaty of San Francisco and the Security Treaty signed the same day signifies the effects of the close relationship post-war Japan has with the USA, and Japan’s post-war role in the international arena, as an economic power house, secure under the protection of the American defence umbrella, ensured by American military bases in Japan and South Korea.
The Soviet Union opposed the Treaty of San Francisco. The Soviet delegation, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, was intent on punishing Japan for its war-time behaviour. The Soviets were bent on revenge and reparations.
The talk among economists and businessmen in San Francisco at that that time was that the Soviets would even go to the extent of dismantling whatever industrial capacity Japan had left standing after the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and take them away and set up the plant and machinery on Soviet soil. The Soviets also wanted Japan to be forced to recognise the Soviet Union’s sovereignty over the disputed South Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands.
The turning point
The mood in the conference hall at the War Memorial Opera house was turning vehemently anti-Japanese and more vindictive and revenge-oriented.
Then, the turning point. A Finance Minister from a small ex-British colony in South Asia , clad in an impeccable white Nehru type jacket and traditional flowing white sarong, walked up to the podium when it came to his turn to speak. The conference did not expect anything much from this Minister from the ex-British colony.
MP J.R. Jayewardene, free Ceylon’s Minister of Finance, had visited Japan on his way to San Francisco. He had seen with his own eyes the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the first time ever nuclear weapons had been used in war. JRJ was – in his own words, as he once put it – ‘a lover of India and a follower of its greatest son,’ Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha.
JRJ empathised with the Shinto Buddhist faith of Japan and visited many temples in and around the cultural capital of Kyoto. He sensed and imbibed the strength, capacity, innate power and determination to rebuild their once great nation within the Japanese people, even when they were suffering foreign domination and the humiliation of defeat, strengthened by their strong Shinto Buddhist faith.
JRJ was determined that Japan, once an Asian economic powerhouse, should be given the space to recover its one-time capacity to lead Asia on a benign path to peace and prosperity, led by the Emperor, who under the General Douglas MacArthur’s constitution, imposed on Japan, has no executive power and was only a figurehead.
In defence of a free Japan
J.R.J. raised his voice in defence of a free Japan and informed a stunned conference of Ceylon’s refusal to accept the payment of reparations that would harm Japan’s economy.
His reason, in his own words: “We in Ceylon were fortunate that we were not invaded, but the damage caused by air raids, by the stationing of enormous armies under the South East Asia Command, and by the slaughter tapping of one of our main commodities, rubber, when we were the only producer of natural rubber for the Allies, entitles us to ask that the damage so caused should be repaired. We do not intend to do so for we believe in the words of the Thathagatha – the Great Teacher, the Buddha, whose message has ennobled the lives of countless millions in Asia, that ‘Hatred ceases not by hatred but by love’.”
JRJ ended this historic speech, flowing against the tide so far at the conference, one of revenge, reparations and retribution, supplanting it by a message of peace, reconciliation and magnanimity: “This treaty is as magnanimous as it is just to a defeated foe. We extend to Japan the hand of friendship and trust that with the closing of this chapter in the history of man, the last page of which we write today, and with the beginning of a new one, the first page of which we dictate tomorrow, her people and ours may march together to enjoy the full dignity of human life in peace and prosperity.”
A personal anecdote has it that JRJ’s Private Secretary, who accompanied him to the Conference, was at the Conference Press Centre, with few typed copies of the speech (these were pre-photocopy days), waiting for JRJ’s speech to finish to hand out copies of the speech to any reporters who were interested; he had not anticipated there would be many. Suddenly, as soon as JRJ finished speaking, a whole posse of journalists descended on him demanding copies of the speech, the poor man said that he had difficulty in escaping with his shirt intact!
Fast-forward to September 2014, the Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe is on a State visit to Colombo, Sri Lanka, addressing the Lanka-Japan Business Forum. The Prime Minister refers to the visit to Sri Lanka’s Parliament building – donated by the Japanese Government, in Jayewardenepura Kotte, and stated that he keeps the name of the great statesman J.R. Jayewardene… engraved in his heart, as a reminder of the strong friendship that has existed between the two countries since the former Finance Minister and President J.R. Jayewardene spoke on behalf of Japan’s freedom at the San Francisco Peace Conference.
Prime Minister Abe reiterated that “it is a result of that speech that Japan exists today” and went on to say that Japan’s commitment to support the development of Lanka is of personal significance to him, as former Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, the first Japanese Prime Minster to visit Lanka in 1957, was his maternal grandfather.
‘Japana Hapana’ and Japanese gratitude
Prime Minister Abe, in his speech at the Forum also referred to the Sinhala slang phrase ‘Japana Hapana,’ which reflects the respect we have for the skill and ingenuity of the Nippon nation’s inhabitants. The Sinhala language has overtime adopted such phrases into our colloquial discourse.
For example, at the height of the Korean War, Colombo’s worst slum was labelled ‘Koriyawa’! An ‘Amden’ is a lying deceitful smart Aleck, who is branded after the German battleship the Emden, which successfully outwitted the Royal Navy in World War I in the Indian Ocean operational zone, until finally trapped and sunk. When Taiwan first began its industrialisation by producing cheap imitation of industrial products, any counterfeit industrial product or anyone attempting to pass off for someone who he is not was branded ‘Taiwan Badu’!
But the ‘Japana Hapana’ is a compliment, and the Nippon nation has in the decades following JRJ’s iconic speech in San Francisco, showed its gratitude to this small island nation by building a statute of JRJ in a historic Shinto Buddhist temple in Japan, building the new Parliament at Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte, financing the national television service, supporting the downstream Mahaweli development, the National Youth Centre at Maharagama, building Colleges of Education and other infrastructure, funding the expansion of Colombo’s international airport, funding port expansion, supporting a number of Integrated Rural Development Schemes at the District level, sending hundreds of Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) and Silver Volunteers to work with Lankan State and civil society organisations, and much more.
Indeed at this time that the Lanka Men’s Youth Volleyball team has made history, at the Asian Youth Volleyball Tournament in Colombo, by defeating the hitherto dominant Indian team in the South Asian sphere, a feat which the Lanka women’s team achieved decades ago, and also beating the South Koreans, we are honour bound to record our appreciation of the work of dedicated JOCV volleyball coaches who decades ago revolutionised Sri Lanka volleyball’s technical skills through drills and techniques at the grass root level and numerous other projects.
Prime Minister Abe brought with him many ‘Hapanas’ from Japan, on his State visit to Lanka, including representatives from Japanese multinational global giants such as Itochu Corporation, Mitsubishi Corporation, Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, Onomichi Dockyard, SG Holdings, Tomo-Digi Corporation, Hitachi Ltd. and many more.
Further, Prime Minister Abe and the President of Sri Lanka signed four agreements between the two nations – for a Yen loan for Digitalisation of Terrestrial Television Broadcasting Project, on the Vitalisation of Intergovernmental Economic Policy Dialogue, Memorandum of Cooperation in Agriculture and Related Fields, Letter of Intent on Cooperation in the fields of Science Technology and Innovation, etc.
‘Cheena Patas,’ the local name for Chinese firecrackers imported and distributed by the ‘Konde Bandapu Cheena’ – itinerant vendors and shopkeepers, who at one time played an important role in the retail trade in Chinese products – were all the rage in Sri Lanka, prior to the domestic industry developing mainly in the suburbs of Negombo around the village of Kimbulapitiya, during the import substitution era.
Today cynics use the expression to describe the ‘explosion’ of Chinese investments, concessional, commercial loans and grants to Sri Lanka in the recent past and in the future.
President Xi Jinping of China made a State visit to Lanka a few days ago. ‘20 mega deals and an FTA in 23 hours’ screamed one headline. The Deputy General Manager of the Export Import Bank of China Lei Wentao had said that China would sign extended agreements with Lanka for the development of expressways and highways during the visit. DGM Lei had said that the signing of these agreements with Lanka would show the Chinese Government’s commitment towards development of infrastructure facilities in Lanka. He had also said that his Exim Bank was funding more than 21 projects in Sri Lanka with a total investment of $ 1.6 billion.
Most of these projects concern the construction of ports, highways, railways, redevelopment of roads and the shipping industry. On top of this there is the Chinese proposal for a Maritime Silk Route, which Sri Lanka has supported, a Free Trade Agreement and the fact that Chinese tourists are fast becoming the highest number visiting Lanka from any one country. The Colombo Port City project was inaugurated as well as the third phase of the Norochcholai Coal Power Plant.
This ‘explosion’ of Chinese investment and influence in Lanka has caused panic in the region and the world. Allegations on the String of Pearls strategy, of China funding harbours and related facilities in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Thailand, together with huge investments in a blue water naval capacity, are signals which sound the alarm among naval strategists.
In one way China is gaining the benefits of the support it extended to successive Lankan governments through the civil conflict in the supply of weapons and mention and solid diplomatic support at various international forums including the United Nations.
Before the European imperialists arrived in Asia, it was China which dominated the Asian continent. In the Sung era (960-1126), Chinese had a massive bout of technological innovation – gun powder, movable type and sternpost were all discovered. This resulted in a huge surge of economic activity in the 10th to the 13th centuries. The discovery and adoption of a variety of rice which permitted two crops a year from well-irrigated land led to massive surpluses being produced.
On the industrial side, one scholar estimates within a few years of the Battle of Hastings in England (1066), China was producing as much iron ore as the whole of Europe centuries later. When the Italian adventurer Marco Polo was in China at the end of the 13th century – ‘a sort of black stone’ – coal, was being burnt for providing heat.
Chinese sailors in Sung dynasty times already used the magnetic compass. Naval expeditions were using huge seagoing sampans to reach the Persian Gulf, Aden and East Africa in the 15th century. Admiral Cheng Ho arrived in Galle in 1410 with a fleet and kidnapped the local ruler and his family and left behind a plaque in Chinese, Tamil and Persian commemorating his visit. It is now in the Galle Maritime Museum.
Gavin Menzies in his book ‘1421 – the Year the Chinese discovered the World,’ says that there is evidence that Admiral Cheng’s fleet sailed West from Galle to Calicut and on across the Indian Ocean to Malindi on Africa’s East coast and Sofala near Madagascar and even rounded the Cape of Good Hope. This was a century before Columbus landed in the West Indies and Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape. Among the agreements signed during President Xi’s visit was one to search for shipwrecks of Cheng Ho’s fleet. This was the height of Chinese oceanic power.
Thereafter China turned inwards; the Confucian tradition, the over-confidence and arrogance buttressed by great resources and remoteness made it difficult for China to learn from outside. The vacuum was filled by European explorers who heralded the European colonisation of Asia, in search of spices. They were competing with Arab traders who held the monopoly up to then. From around 1500 to the time of World War II, Europeans dominated the sea lanes of Asia.
In ancient times too there have been extensive contacts between China and Lanka – the earliest recorded mission from China to Lanka took place during the time of the Han dynasty’s Emperor Ping (1-6 CE).
Between the first and 10th centuries, it is recorded Lanka’s kings sent at least 10 missions to the Middle Kingdom. In the fifth century the Buddhist scholar Fa Hsien visited the Maha Vihara in Anuradhapura; at this time the Meheni Sasuna was introduced to China from Lanka.
Archaeological evidence at Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and especially Yapahuwa has turned up Chinese artefacts such as ceramic ware and coins belonging to the Sung dynasty. Chinese seagoing sampans would have berthed at Gokanna, the modern Trincomalee, and gone cross country to Anuradhapura to trade with traders from the West, Jews, Moors and Europeans, who also came to Anuradhapura overland after their vessels docked at Manthai, the modern Mannar. The South West and North East monsoon winds would have propelled these vessels.
Dependence on monsoon wind power meant that the traders would have been compelled to stay in Sri Lanka during the inter-monsoon period; their prolonged presence would have a substantial impact. Anuradhapura had a separate area for European traders, designated by royal edict, and special taxes were levied on foreign traders at the Ports of Manthai, Gokanna and Magampura. The pair of guardian lions at the bottom of the ascent of the stairs to Yapahuwa bears a striking resemblance to ancient Chinese sculptured lions.
Whatever the ancient history, how can one discount the Rubber-Rice Pact, the initiative to settle the border war between India and China, the BMICH, the assistance provided in the war against the LTTE, ships, aircraft, weapons and armaments, NORINCO’s go down at Boosa in Galle of T56s and ammunition, which were supplied on a payable-when-able basis, the Nelum Pokuna Centre for the Performing Arts at the former CMC Grounds in Colombo, Hambantota Magampura Harbour, Mattala Airport, International Conference Centre, Norochcholai, loans, equipment and grants for Maga Neguma?
Sri Lanka is the focus of both these East Asian powers, China and Japan. Balancing a fine line between ‘Japana Hapana’ and ‘Cheena Patas’ will require a level of diplomatic skill which will sorely test our dismal current nepotism-based diplomatic capacity.
The favoured solution of hiring expensive foreign consultants to do the work of these incompetent worthies will definitely not be an option!