20 May, 2024


Sri Lanka Won’t Be The Last Nation To Need Friends

By Krishantha Prasad Cooray

Krishantha Cooray

For as long as the human race has organized itself into sovereign nations, no country has had a story of limitless success. Nations and empires alike have risen and fallen, over thousands of years. Every language has phrases like “it takes a village” to remind us of the limitations of individual people and the need to work together. Similarly, no nation will ever thrive in isolation.

The fate of every country is dependent on its relationships with other countries, with allies who share their values and who support each other in times of need.

History is littered with examples of countries that have been beset by natural disasters, militarily crippled, ridden with diseases, targeted by terrorism or economically ruined. What separates those who overcome these challenges from those that don’t is the willingness of other countries to come to their aid.

After World War II, for example, when the Axis powers were roundly defeated, it was the countries that vanquished them who stepped in to rebuild them. Indeed, without the aid of the Allies, neither Germany nor Japan would have grown into the economic powerhouses they are today.

The Marshal Plan, an American initiative, enabled West Germany and other West European nations to rise from the ashes of war and gain rapid economic development.

Japan, on the other hand, had far fewer friends. As European victims of German aggression feared the prospect of a united Germany, Asian victims of Japanese aggression feared a remilitarised Japan. Cold War politics too played a role, with the Soviet Union accusing the United States of planning to turn Japan into a military camp against itself and China. It was only at the San Francisco Peace Conference in 1951 that a peace treaty was finally signed, ending the occupation of Japan, restoring Japanese independence, and putting the country on a path to prosperity.

At that conference, it was then Sri Lankan Finance Minister Junius Richard Jayewardene, who spoke most persuasively about the case for making peace with Japan as an independent non-occupied nation. Jayewardene reminded the audience that prior to the barbarity of World War II, Japan had long been a staunch ally of other Asian nations. “It is because of our age-long connections with her, and because of the high regard the subject peoples of Asia have for Japan when she alone, among the Asian nations, was strong and free and we looked up to her as a guardian and friend,” he reminded the assembled world leaders.

Japan has never forgotten, and even today, memorial statues and plaques across Japan mark the country’s gratitude to J.R. Jayewardene. Sri Lanka, at the time, had nothing to gain from the vanquished Japanese. But we came to the aid of a nation in need and did the correct thing. A quarter century later, when J.R. Jayewardene became President of Sri Lanka, our relationship with Japan became one of the cornerstones of Sri Lanka’s subsequent prosperity.

Today, Sri Lanka finds itself crippled by an unprecedented crisis. Our people are in abject financial peril. Over a quarter of the country is starving and malnourished. The economy is paralyzed and many children are unable to reach schools due to fuel shortages. Electricity has become a luxury, and essential medicines have become scarce.

This is not the doing of the people but the result of mismanagement by corrupt, incompetent and short-sighted politicians holding the reins of power for their own gain. These politicians benefited. The people suffered. They suffer as I write and will suffer for a long time more to come.

It is tragic to see a country as resilient as Sri Lanka, with a proud history, being reduced to such a state. One day, I have no doubt that my country will rise again. But we will only do so with the support of friends, who will speak in solidarity and act in support.

Sri Lanka is but the first country to see its economy collapse at the mercy of corruption and rising global food and oil prices. It won’t be the last. Before long, other poorly managed countries will also begin to waver. Each stumbling nation can be rescued one at a time, but if several countries all collapse together, the chain reaction could paralyze the economies of not just the region, but the entire world. Sri Lanka, in particular, is ripe for rescue.

The people are clamouring for serious institutional and constitutional reform. If these reforms are coupled to both humanitarian aid and commercial investments, the payoff will be not just a monetary one, but one of deep gratitude.

At this time, if people, institutions and nations alike come to the aid of the Sri Lankan people, that aid is needed like never before. Doing so will help avert or minimize a humanitarian crisis like Sri Lanka has never known. Any country can make a contribution to help feed the starving, heal the sick, employ the unemployed, light up a classroom, and take other steps to help Sri Lanka to jumpstart its economy.

It was such words of support, and deeds of solidarity that helped Japan in 1951, and for which Japan has remained grateful so many decades later. Likewise, such a word, such a deed, will be remembered by Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans, those who are suffering right now, those who survive, and their children. It is a brand of gratitude that is special because it is altruistic. People will remember, ‘they didn’t have to, they had nothing to gain, but they did anyway.’ We will remember, and we will be grateful.

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Latest comments

  • 2

    OK, Mr Cooray, so Japan is eternally grateful to SL for JR’s gesture but would any country step in to assist with the current yobs, who are political pariahs in the eyes of the world, still holding on to power? This time CHOGM was held in Rwanda a few weeks ago. I expect RW, who eagerly awaits such international events would have attended but did the commonwealth offer any assistance? Apparently, the British govt. has pledged Rwanda a huge aid package, as according to a UK official, Brittan was happy with their reforms & development plans, therefore, willing to help. Are we waiting for handouts only, without any such reforms or sustainable development plans?

  • 2

    Vietnam rose from the ashes after years of war & now a leading exporter of garments, electronic components & even assembles BMWs for the Asian market. Bangladesh was a beggar country 2 decades ago & natural disasters, like flooding, was part of life, yet, today, is doing better than SL in garment exports & even able to lend money to SL. Malta is a tiny, barren island in the Mediterranean where even water has to be imported, yet, the country is doing better than SL by exploiting its geographical location as a shipping hub, a container port for East West shipping. SL has no natural disaster, only man made, & apart from Athulathmudali, no current politician had the vision to develop Colombo, instead built a port in Hambatota with huge commercial borrowings which has proven to be a dead investment. So you say ” Sri Lanka, in particular, is ripe for rescue”. Should we ask these countries to form an orderly queue to hand over their $?

  • 2

    When companies are in trouble, they downsize. Lay off workers, freeze hiring, cut budgets, perhaps even sell off or lease assets. We already saw this with Hambantota Port. China has too many people and not enough land. Sri Lanka has enough land, especially in the North and East, but lacks the labour and other resources for optimal development. Therefore, as a short-term solution, it should consider either leasing or selling off portions of this land entirely. Let some foreign entity like China take full control, without being subject to any Sri Lankan laws. This would also allow GOSL to scale back on military expenditure. The foreign entity would also bring in FDI and some tech transfer is possible.

    • 5

      Lester the Lying Jester

      “ri Lanka has enough land, especially in the North and East, but lacks the labour and other resources for optimal development.”

      Diaspora Tamils have already put an offer to buy out North East and the rest. Why do you want to sell it to China and allow it to appoint SJ being the Chinese top representative or the enforcer in Sri Lanka?

      Stalin the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister may want to place his bid as well, or the Malaysian Tamil Billionaire Ananda Krishnan could buy the entire island or Google Chief Executive Sundar Pitchai might bid for it, or Tamil Nadu’s Shiv Nadar, ……………….
      Think about ya, you may get a fat commission may be 10% …… with that kind of windfall income you could have a luxury life wherever you want to. Wish you all the best.

    • 1

      Maybe you can donate your land in Kandy, which you abandoned when you ran away to the UK to the Chinese to either cultivate or develop. Charity begins at home, so start with your land, instead of being constantly obsessed with Thamizh people and their lands. Even request all your close relatives to donate their lands to the Chinese. Also the Rajapakses and their supporters.

  • 5

    Lester, China which is so big has no land while Sri Lanka so tiny (and 22 million people) has land ! True ?

    This Cooray is like a heavy shower of nonsense. So full of clichés and big talk.

    After defeating Japan its fate was decided by US and the major allies. I have not seen any reference to the so called JR speech ( coming from a small island) in any discussions and deliberations of the major powers.However it is possible that some Japanese were grateful for the support at least in words.

    Should japan continue to support this always breakdown country for ever ?

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