It all started during the tail-end of Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s 1960-64 rule. The two Bandaranaike’s close ties with Peking’s Communist leaders encouraged them to donate an International Conference Hall in commemoration, especially of SWRD Bandaranaike who embarked on diplomatic relations with Communist China in 1957. The world’s first Woman PM could not finalise talks when JR Jayewardene orchestrated a cross over by a group of 14 MPs led by C. P. de Silva. This followed a Marxist-SLFP coalition government’s efforts to muzzle the print media through a Press Bill. The defeat in parliament and early dissolution saw the emergence of an UNP led coalition entering the fray in March 1965 general elections. With propaganda based on two main themes; first, ‘Sirima-Chelva secret pact to handover North and East to Federal Party’ and second on an impending danger caused by a Chinese ‘invasion’. The Chinese civil engineering teams that visited the island on preliminary studies for the construction of BMICH were on sight-seeing tours in many parts of the island - [there were no Chinese tourists then] which was an unusual sight causing anxiety among people.
Once they left the island, UNP’s astute politicians were quick to grab the opportunity; they ordered organizing groups of Chinese dental technicians operating in towns to travel extensively in hired luxury cars - the newspapers close to them doing the follow up. A general consensus was built up among the villages that the Mongoloids were on a covertly move planning a take-over of the nation with the help of SLFP. Both strategies worked well for the opposition with added weight caused by the undemocratic Press Bill, the UNP was back in power. They put on hold the work on International Conference Hall by China resulting in dilution of relations between the two governments.
On August 10, a consignment of red-guard badges addressed to the Chinese embassy in Colombo was held by customs pending an External Affairs ministry decision as to whether the badges should be released to the embassy or not.
Mao badges have been worn by the red guards wherever they stirred up trouble both in China and outside in countries such as Burma. An alert officer who suspected the parcel consisted of something special informed the Ministry of External Affairs and Defence for instructions.
The controversial Minister Wijedasa Rajapakshe’s reply, as quoted in today’s [15/08 ] Daily Mirror, responding to an interviewer, “India is asking for Trincomalee. In this regard, America, India, Japan and Europe have got together. There will be a big conflict in world politics against China’s domination. We will be destroyed first in this conflict.” Justice Minister’s statement and the number of responses to my last week’s article on “Sino-Indian and Bertrand Russell…” , prompted me to go back in time to 1960s tracing the history of China phobia by Sri Lankan politicians.
Under Sirimavo Bandaranaike in the early 1960s, Sri Lanka developed and enjoyed a special relationship with The People’s Republic of China, but this did not draw her into support of China during latter’s war with India 1962. Sri Lanka remained strictly neutral. The Communist party in Sri Lanka was in the throes of its own shocking ideological clash based on the rift between China and Russia.
On August 12, 1965, an influx of young ‘Peking Reds’ [Communist Party’s break-away China-wing supporters] led by N. Shanmugadasan, popularly known as ‘Shun’ visited Jaffna. MP, S. D. Bandaranayake, the former SLFPer-turned China sympathiser were to travel to North too, on a mission to quell caste riots that erupted at a Hindu temple. Police had suspicions on the timing of the move; Jaffna police was asked to be on alert.
On August 14, the Chinese Mission in Colombo located at JR’s childhood home at Turret Road [Dharmapala Mw], issued a strongly worded ‘threatening’ note to the government. It accused us of “working in connivance of anti-Chinese elements and committing acts of robbery and sabotage of export goods and diplomatic articles of the embassy on board the time-chartered ship, the Aionnis”. The note added that “The Ministry had gone to the extent of flagrantly holding up the badges with the profile of Chairman Mao and had not released them for more than a month. As number of vicious elements conducted a robbery; the Captain of the ship demanded protection from police of the port.” It ended with a warning, “Do not rifle with 700 million Chinese”. The government a few days ago ordered that only ministry of Defence could make decisions on visas for Chinese arriving or already domiciled here having come before 1948.
Earlier the Immigration Department handled these matters. The decision was based on intelligence reports that a massive built up of Communist Chinese in the country and that a large spy-ring was in operation. It was a deliberate faux pas by intelligence men close to government politicians. The Defence Ministry ordered an investigation of all stateless Chinese residing here working as dental technicians. [the very people they used during the election campaign]. Meanwhile it was reported that Red Guards [communist party supporters] in Peking had assembled opposite Sri Lankan embassy demonstrated shouting anti-Lankan slogans and even pelted stones at the office, for soldiers to cordon off the area.
The note by the Chinese spoke of …Ceylon’s “grave violation of international practice”, the bully’s boast yelled. The Chinese held the whip-hand as our main supplier of rice, but the Dudley Senanayake government was not prepared to surrender the national pride to a pot of rice.
The Government however noted that in the recent past Chinese have sent similar threatening notes to countries like Burma, India, Indonesia and Japan, in keeping with the pattern of her new foreign policy; therefore it decided to play it cool; no hasty decisions. One factor that weighed heavily in the minds of ministers was the various trade deals now in operation between the two nations. While the cabinet discussed the threat, Robert Gunawardene the Ambassador to Peking was present at the lobby. On August 16, the ministry announced that it was planning to issue a full statement the next day clarifying the position. Media reports indicated that 72 books containing selected works of Mao were held back too.
S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike’s ideas on international relations, based on the principles of neutralism which he talked about at the United Nations and many international forums, became the foundations of the principles of non-alignment which became a vital force in internationalism to which a large section of the world community subscribed during that time.
BMICH, the great hall, a work of art is a dramatic testimony to the friendship between the people of China and the Sri Lankans. In Sirimavo’s speech at the opening of it on May 18, 1973, she related the history.—I quote, “When I rather hesitantly expressed my desire to have an international conference hall, the Chinese Prime Minister Chou en Lai said, “Yes, I would be very glad to gift a hall in memory of my late friend. Only, I ask of you that you should name it after him –The foundation was laid by Sirimavo on March 15, 1965. Then there was a change of government in end March and the project was held up and it was resumed after Bandaranaike was elected Prime Minister in 1970.
Mao badges have been worn by the red guards wherever they stirred up trouble both in China and outside in countries such as Burma
Sri Lanka’s most accomplished Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar unveiling the bust of the late PM Chou en Lai at the BMICH on April 9, 2005, said, “When a relationship is based on mutual respect and affection, the size, importance and power of one of the two countries in that relationship does not have a disproportionate influence on the other. China has never sought to influence the domestic politics of Sri Lanka. Over the years China has proved to be benign and sincere with no ulterior motives for befriending Sri Lanka. She has never tried to dominate, undermine or destabilize Sri Lanka.” The minister continued, “She has come to our rescue with timely assistance on several occasions when there were threats to Sri Lanka’s national security and territorial integrity. There have been no strings attached to Chinese aid. When a relationship between two countries is not based on dependence, it is strengthened by the fact that it is based on the mutual recognition of equality. Sri Lanka in its own way has been helpful to China. The rubber-rice pact of 1951 has been referred to.”
The late Lakshman Kadirgamar said, “In more recent times, Sri Lanka has in a modest way been of assistance to China in international fora; especially in the field of human rights where Sri Lanka, taking the view that China was being unfairly treated in certain quarters, has been her steadfast ally. It is good for a relationship when both countries are able to contribute something towards sustaining and enhancing it. Sri Lanka has remained steadfast and unequivocal in respect of its One China Policy.”
The late Lakshman Kadirgamar was referring to China in 2005!
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