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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2640

Did Japan contribute to Sri Lanka's independence?

By Janaka Perera

An interesting debate over who brought independence to Sri Lanka, India and the rest of European colonies in Asia took place at the Gamini Dissanayake Auditorium, Mahaweli Centre, Colombo, last Monday (June 24, 2019).

An entirely different perspective to the historical narrative sparked off the debate at the Royal Asiatic Society Ssponsored public lecture. The speaker was Attorney at Law Senaka Weeraratna, who addressed the gathering on “Did Japan Contribute to Sri Lanka and India gaining Independence from British colonial rule?”

Mr. Weeraratna is the first Sri Lankan and first Asian to thank Japan on the premises of the Japanese Parliament (Conference Room No. 101 of the Diet) for making huge blood sacrifices of Japanese soldiers and thereby paving the way for the liberation of Europe's Asian colonies including Sri Lanka, at a symposium organized by Japan’s Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact, in November, last year.

The crux of his argument was as follows:

“The time has come to challenge the hype that Sri Lanka won independence from Britain in 1948 exclusively by our own local efforts through an exchange of correspondence and political negotiations without any supportive foreign factor. This British centric - friendly narrative is increasingly unsustainable in the light of new evidence.

Moreover, it is political correctness and tendency to please our former colonial rulers that has prevented an objective appraisal being undertaken taking into account the external factors that contributed substantially towards the gaining of freedom from colonial rule.

It is indisputable that Japan struck the greatest decisive blow ever by any non – white country or non – white people to European power in Asia with the attack on Pearl Harbour. In about 90 days beginning on December 8, 1941, Japan overran the possessions of Britain, France, the US and the Netherlands in east and south-east Asia, taking the Philippines, Singapore, Malaya, Hong Kong, the Dutch East Indies; much of Siam and French Indochina and Burma with bewildering swiftness to stand poised at the borders of India by early 1942.”

While members in the audience expressed different views on this subject, especially on Japan’s motives, none could deny the following fact:

That the British in the late 1940s were compelled to depart the shores of India and Sri Lanka neither because of Gandhi’s non-violent civil disobedience movement nor because of the peaceful agitation for Dominion Status by D.S. Senanayake and other leaders but because World War II drained the British economy and sapped her energy making it difficult to further maintain the empire.

If not for Japan the war would have been confined to Europe and the Middle-East. Regardless of Tokyo’s motives it was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that ignited the anti-European liberation movements in South and Southeast Asia. Asian Leaders like Subhas Chandra Bose, Myanmar’s Aung San and Indonesia’s Soekarno were quick to grasp the opportunity and secure Japanese assistance for the freedom movements, though Japan was eventually defeated in the war.

However for the British, the French and the Dutch it was a Pyrrhic victory. In the following decade they lost their Asian empire.

These events made J.R. Jayewardene (then Sri Lanka's Finance Minister) to oppose the isolation of Japan and call for Japan's re- integration into the international community, without imposing harsh punishment by way of reparations, at the San Francisco Peace Treaty Conference in 1951, when many Western nations demanded payment for reparations for damages caused during the war. The two other men who were closely associated with J.R. Jayewardene's historic speech, were the then Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake (who gave instructions to J.R. Jayewardene to toe the line as preached by the Buddha -

"Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.") and Sir Susantha Fonseka , then Sri Lanka's first Ambassador to Japan (who was an ardent supporter of the Japanese cause, and even the influence behind the government’s decision not to ask for war compensation).

- Asian Tribune -

Senaka Weeraratna delivering his talk at the Japanese Parliament ( Conference Room No. 101)
diconary view
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