Can Japan save Mahinda?

| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( March 13, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Mahinda Rajapaksa's impending tour of Japan was scheduled for an earlier date. But because of the sudden political upheaval and change of government in that country, he had to postpone the trip. He is now making the tour at a crucial juncture when America has presented a resolution against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council, and India is supporting it. At the same time, it is also reported that some weeks ago Japan's Ambassador to the United Nations along with envoys of several other countries had met UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon and handed over a report in favour of Sri Lanka. Some media referred to this as a report to 'whitewash' Sri Lanka.

Finds it difficult

When considering this report, one finds it difficult to speculate on whether Mahinda Rajapaksa was seeking the support of Japan to change the stern stance of America against Sri Lanka, especially since Japan is a friend of America and other western countries.

It is evident that though Rajapaksa, though having great faith in India, had to abandon it, owing to the opposition mounted by Tamil Nadu. One wonders whether Rajapaksa, on this tour of Japan, would recall the speech the late J. R. Jayewardene made at the San Francisco conference in favour of granting independence for Japan. By emphasizing 'hate begets hate' and 'hatred does not conquer hatred' Jayewardene strongly urged that Japan, which had suffered the ravages of war, be granted a pardon and its independence.

Hereunder are excerpts of JR's speech ...

"It is also interesting to note that the amendments of the Soviet Union seek to ensure for the people of Japan the fundamental freedoms of expression, of press and publication, of religious worship, of political opinion and of public meeting – freedoms which the people of the Soviet Union themselves would dearly love to possess and enjoy. (Thunderous ovation)

"The reason why, therefore, we cannot agree to the amendments proposed by the Soviet delegate, is because 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."

The letter sent by the then Prime Minister of Japan effusively thanking

J. R. Jayewardene reads as follows:

20 September 1951

I was so moved by what you had to say at the San Francisco Peace Conference on Asia's aspiration to freedom and the magnanimous stand of the Ceylon Government toward Japan, that I feel I must send you a word of appreciation. Let me assure you that all Japanese have been greatly impressed by your noble utterance.

Now that the Peace Treaty has been signed, it is my earnest hope that Japan will be able to co-operate freely and fully with all her neighbour nations towards the preservation of peace and freedom and the furtherance of stability are progress in all Asia.

Yours sincerely,
Shigeru Yoshida
Prime Minister

It is possible that in a manner similar to Jayewardene, who urged that Japan be granted pardon and independence, Rajapaksa on this tour of Japan will seek its assistance to press for freedom for Sri Lanka from war crimes investigations.

Silent policy

Japan, a country that was associated with Sri Lanka during the period of cessation of hostilities, is following a silent policy in regard to the war crime charges. It was America that instructed the Government of Ranil Wickremesinghe at that time, to enlist the support of Japan in the peace process. India and Norway were not well disposed towards Japan's participation. India specifically was concerned that Japan would encroach into South Asia via the peace process

It is interesting that Japan's special representative Yasushi Akashi went to Vanni and met the LTTE Leader, V. Prabhakaran, only once. However, the decision taken by Prabhakaran to boycott the Tokyo donor conference and his refusal to meet Akashi for a second time may have made India happy. It was believed that India was perturbed over the strengthening of relationship between Japan and the Tamil Tiger outfit.

Yet, India now appears happy over the growing ties between Japan and Sri Lanka, because it is of the view that Japan can divert the country from being pushed towards China.

Last December, The Japan Times newspaper published an intriguing article titled 'Japan's leadership test in Sri Lanka.' Below are some excerpts from the article...

"US President Barack Obama's announcement last month that the US would support an Indian bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council may reinvigorate the process of Security Council reform. Japan too has made permanent membership in the Security Council a high priority in its foreign policy. As such, it might consider how its handling of the Sri Lanka file reflects upon its leadership potential.

"Since the end of the Cold War, and particularly in the wake of the diplomatic crisis created by the Persian Gulf War, Japan has been struggling to develop a meaningful role for itself in international politics. Constitutionally constrained from participating in collective security operations that involves the use of force, and unfairly scorned during the Gulf war for its 'check book diplomacy,' Japan has sought to cast itself as a 'power for peace.' It is a mean of making a different kind of contribution to the world's peace and security.

"But in its handling of the crisis in Sri Lanka, Japan seems to be losing its way. Sri Lanka has in fact played a central role in Japan's efforts to re-define itself as a 'power for peace.' In 2003, Japan hosted the Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction and Development in Sri Lanka, and it played an important function in the Norway-led peace talks that followed. Japan's foreign aid to Sri Lanka has been part of the peace and reconciliation efforts and Japan has given far more foreign aid in the last 10 years than any other country. The benefits to Sri Lanka from such aid should not be minimized and it will no doubt contribute to the economic growth and stability essential to the post war peace process in Sri Lanka.

"The failure of Sri Lanka's most significant development assistance partner to lend weight to the widespread international pressure upon the Sri Lankan Government to address the many significant humanitarian and human rights issues, and respond meaningfully to Tamil grievances, provides the Sri Lankan Government with the necessary space to withstand the pressure. This not only raises the risk of perpetuating the human tragedy that continues to unfold in Sri Lanka, but in the longer run it contributes to the possibility of the conflict resuming in the future. Quite apart from the moral implications, such a consequence is not in Japan's interests, from the perspective of either its strategic and geopolitical concerns, or its efforts to become a 'power for peace' with UN Security Council aspirations."

Power for peace
When reading this article, it becomes clear that at this juncture, Japan hasn't the ability to help Rajapaksa, in respect of war crimes allegations. The only option open to Japan is to stand by 'power for peace' and act as a mediator between Sri Lanka on the one hand and America and international community on the other.

America, in the past used Sri Lanka via J.R. Jayewardene's speech to secure freedom for Japan. But whether America which is bringing pressure to bear on Sri Lanka will use Japan today to secure freedom for the Tamils in the country is a matter of speculation.

( The writer is a seniors journalist works for the Ceylon Today, a daily based in Colombo)