Sri Lanka defended Japan at the Peace Treaty of San Francisco – its Japan’s turn to reciprocate

Japan Sri Lanka flags

On 8th September 1951, 51 nations gathered at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco to officially end World War 2 and to formally end Japan’s position as an imperial power, and to allocate compensation to Allied civilians and former prisoners of war who had suffered Japanese war crimes. Powerful nations objected to Japan being set up as a US military base and coercing Japan’s to align to the West. India did not even attend the conference. Japan, would recall that it was little Sri Lanka who defended Japan before all the nations present and went a step forward by declaring that Sri Lanka would not accept any reparations from Japan as that would affect Japan’s economy. In Japan’s darkest hour and when Japan needed a friend, Sri Lanka came forward in 1951 without strings attached. Japan, with its history, ancient culture and Buddhist identity must realize the predicament Sri Lanka is in to come to Sri Lanka’s defence as Sri Lanka did when Japan needed support.

Sri Lanka was represented by J R Jayawardena as Finance Minister. His speech received resounding applause and was extensively quoted and appreciated. Excerpts from that speech are given below:

 “it was at the Colombo Conference of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers held in January, 1950, that for the first time the case for a completely independent Japan was proposed and considered. The Colombo Conference considered Japan not as an isolated case, but as part of the region known as South and Southeast Asia, containing a large proportion of the world’s wealth and population, and consisting of countries which have only recently regained their freedom, whose people were still suffering as a result of centuries of neglect. Two ideas emerged from that Conference – one, that of an independent Japan, and the other, the necessity for the economic and social development of the peoples of South and South-east Asia, to ensure which, what is now known as the Colombo Plan was launched……. The treaty now before us is the result of those consultations and negotiations. It represents some of the views that my Government had…………… The main idea that animated the Asian countries, Ceylon, India and Pakistan, in their attitude to Japan was that Japan should be free. …… Should reparations be exacted from Japan? If so, the amount. How is Japan to defend herself until she organizes her own defence?………… We feel that the allied matters I mentioned earlier are not insoluble if Japan is free, that they are insoluble if Japan is not free……

Why is it that the peoples of Asia are anxious that Japan should be free ? 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……. 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 Asian Command, and by the slaughter-tapping of one of our main commodities, rubber, when we were the only producers of natural rubber for the Allies, entitle us to ask th1at the damage so caused should be repaired. We do not intend to do so, for we believe in the words of the Great Teacher whose message has ennobled the lives of countless millions in Asia, that (hatred ceases not by hatred, but by love’. It is the message of the Buddha, the Great Teacher, the Founder of Buddhism, which spread a wave of humanism through South Asia, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Siam, Indonesia and Ceylon, and also northwards through the Himalayas into Tibet, China, and finally, Japan, which bound us together for hundreds of years with a common culture and heritage.This common culture still exists, as I found on my visit to Japan last week on my way to attend this Conference; and from the leaders of Japan, Ministers of State as well as private citizens, from their priests in the temples, I gathered the impression that the common people of Japan are still influenced by the shadow of that Great Teacher of peace, and wish to follow it. We must give them that opportunity…this treaty proposes to return to Japan sovereignty, equality and dignity, and we cannot do so if we give them with qualifications. The purpose of the treaty then is to make Japan free, to impose no restrictions on Japan’s recovery, to see to it that she organizes her own military defence against external aggression, and internal subversion, and that until she does so, she invites the aid of a friendly power to protect her, and that no reparations be exacted from her that harm her economy.

This treaty is as magnanimous as it is just to a defeated foe.

We extend to Japan a 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 the 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.”

This speech is relevant for many reasons. Over 63 years has passed since the speech and today Sri Lanka finds itself in need of global friends sincere enough to stand by the nation as selective, biased and unjust accusations are being continuously hurled upon Sri Lanka for defeating an internationally proscribed terrorist movement.

Sri Lanka’s accomplishment in militarily eliminating a terrorist movement is unparalleled and with it a humanitarian rescue operation saved 300,000 Tamil people. A post-conflict mechanism was indigenously developed. In less than 4 years 97% of these displaced people are now living in new homes when the majority of them were originally living in huts. Areas of the North that had been under LTTE defacto rule despite the presence of foreign organizations had not even seen a proper road, today 3billion investment in developing the North has given a new lease of life to the people and areas that never had electricity in 3 decades are now enjoying light. People see the change. Politicians don’t because politicians need issues to rally people around them. Japan’s representative Akashi has first hand information having been very much part of numerous failed peace/cease fire negotiations. He is well aware of life during LTTE and now with people freely traveling throughout the country without having to pay LTTE taxes.

Sri Lanka objected to Japan being given ‘qualifications’ for its freedom. Our own homegrown mechanisms that have proven successful in just 4 years have not satisfied a handful of foreign nations for they seek to remote control Sri Lanka from foreign shores. As a sovereign and independent nation, it is Sri Lanka’s right to charter its own destiny as proved by the scale of development and change people are experiencing. People are getting on with their lives. No people with a past wish to have these re-exposed on public domain. Countless Truth Commissions have been useless as their failures have been documented. Sri Lanka sees no reason in polarizing communities once again. The nations and people calling for Truth Commissions have never accounted for their calculated sins and these include blatant lies and distortion of truth. The scores of ex-combatants are moving on with their lives. They and their families need room to heal. They need time and space and they do not need to be brought to the dock to tell the world what they did. We know what they did was wrong and they know too and so long as they have given assurance that they would not repeat those wrongs Sri Lanka’s compassionate society are willing to allow them to be very much part of our society.

Therefore, the world must understand that Sri Lanka needs room to heal. We do not need nations and their representatives who did nothing to end 3 decades of terror to now come to the scene flagging this solution and that solution. We formulated our own plan and we must be given room to follow that through. Nations who have been subjugated as Japan and Germany through various treaties need to realize the importance of allowing room to heal.

We are hurt that foreign delegates enjoy our hospitality and view the visible changes all around Sri Lanka but issue statements in total denial of their conscience having met handful of politicians in the pocket of foreign domination or others who never even set a foot in the North when LTTE prevailed and now pretend to be the guardians of the Tamil people and hire people to showcase their importance. There are handful of others who are employed by foreign concerns and naturally they too are paid to flag versions that are anti-national. It is in the backdrop of these realities that nations like Japan must view Sri Lanka’s current disposition.

Japan-Sri Lanka ties are long and cannot be forgotten. Japan ‘s ties to Allied Powers may impede its relationship with Sri Lanka but Japan may like to recall that Sri Lanka spoke independently in favor of Japan in 1951 and numerous other instances as well.

Sri Lanka is facing a dark hour and it is good for Japan to look at the long ties between the two nations and help Sri Lanka, similar to the unconditional gesture Sri Lanka made to Japan many moons ago.

Shenali D Waduge