We give below excerpts of the speech made by Mr. Kenichi Suganuma, Ambassador of Japan to Sri Lanka at the Colombo Club on Tuesday, 22 September.
Today’s speech is about Japan- Sri Lanka relations post-election 2015 and I’m grateful for Mr. Kumar Nadesan for suggesting me to speak in front of this prestigious club on this topic. Sri Lanka is in a time of change following a presidential election in January and a parliamentary election last month. I think it’s very timely to think about the future development of Japan Sri Lanka relation at this juncture. But let me just recall the past relationship between Sri Lanka and Japan.
Historical ties between Japan and Sri Lanka
We opened diplomatic relations in 1952 and 63 years has passed since then. We have been helping each other throughout our historical ties. Mr. J. R. Jayawardene, who represented Sri Lanka in the San Francisco Peace Conference held in 1951, quoted the Buddha’s phrase, “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love”, and renounced to claim reparations for war damages in order to facilitate Japan’s re-engagement with the international community after the World War II. I can easily imagine how much the Japanese people in those days were impressed and encouraged by his kind words. By the way, I understand that some recent studies have disclosed that the speech made by Mr. J. R. Jayawardene was based on the instruction of Mr. D. S. Senanayake, the then Prime Minister of Ceylon. Anyway, following the conference, Japan has vowed to do its utmost to help the development of other Asian countries particularly those who have suffered by the war, along with its own economic recovery. This has been a consistent policy of our government since then. This is why, Japan joined the Colombo Plan in 1954 and, as a start, dispatched two experts of rice-crop to Sri Lanka under the framework of the International Organisation. This was the beginning of our government’s development assistance. During the past 60 years, Japan, through JICA, has provided various kinds of financial, technical and other assistance, amounting to more than 10 billion US $, and almost 1,000 volunteers have come to the country so far. Currently, there are nearly 80 JICA volunteers all over Sri Lanka and annually, in terms of disbursement, assistance to Sri Lanka is about 400 – 500 million US dollars.
"We opened diplomatic relations in 1952 and 63 years has passed since then. We have been helping each other throughout our historical ties. Mr. J. R. Jayawardene, who represented Sri Lanka in the San Francisco Peace Conference held in 1951, quoted the Buddha’s phrase, “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love"
The relation was not only between government and government. When Sri Lanka suffered serious damage from the Indian Ocean tsunami caused by the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake in 2004, Japan provided various relief and emergency assistance. But, we cannot forget that this was reciprocated by the warm assistance and kind words from the Government and people of Sri Lanka when Japan was hit by the big earthquake and tsunami 4 years ago, and we have today with us someone who provided valuable assistance at that time. And even during the recent flood in Japan, I saw news that the Sri Lankan community provided food for flood victims. So this is the kind of relationship that we had in the past.
There is another well-known anecdote about the former President J. R. Jayawardene. When he passed away, he left a will to donate his right eye for the Sri Lankan and his left eye for the Japanese. And as a matter of fact, the cornea of one of his eyes was donated to a Japanese patient. This really shows the strength and depth of trust between our two countries, and I believe that it is our duty to pass it on to the future generation.
Japan-Sri Lanka relations post elections 2015
Now, let us try to see the future of our relationship, and I must say, I am very hopeful for a number of reasons.
First, the change of Government and establishment of a National Unity Government. Japan, has welcomed the policies of the new government in January, which include promoting good governance, strengthening democratic institutions and aiming at balanced diplomacy, and has expressed the wish to actively cooperate with the new National unity Government for its new nation-building. While there is negotiation on a resolution on Sri Lanka in Geneva, we are expecting that the policies of the new Government will finally give tangible results in the area of accountability and national reconciliation. We also hope that measures to heal the psychological wounds of the war victims be accelerated. Furthermore, it is very important to ensure the livelihood for the people by revitalizing the economy in the north and east. And the government of Japan is offering various assistance not only on reconciliation and accountability issues, but also for the new economic development of this area.
Secondly, we now see the prospect of the whole south Asian region growing and Sri Lanka is the hub of this region. Now we see China’s growth slowing down. ASEAN is all right, but of course affected by China and in terms of new investment, it’s pretty much saturated, I would say. So, many companies, including Japanese companies, are moving westward to this region, that includes India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, in between Middle East and ASEAN. And the new government intends to tap this opportunity.
Of course, Sri Lanka, while it enjoyed its recent economic growth, has still several challenges, such as insufficient economic infrastructure, social services in the rural areas, and natural disasters. I also mentioned about the economic development in the North, and the East. So Japan will continue its assistance to overcome these challenges including in conflict affected areas, there is no doubt about that.
But I see a wider possibility of private business relations growing. We had trade relations that has been steady, or grew reasonably, I would say. In 2012, the total trade volume was 98 billion rupees. Sri Lanka mainly imports vehicles from Japan and exports tea and marine products to Japan. Japan’s direct investment in Sri Lanka was 26 million US dollars and we were the 11th biggest investor in Sri Lanka in 2012. We had lot of bigger investments in the past, 20 years ago. And companies like Noritake, Tokyo Cement or YKK are still here, but now, I say that there is renewed interest from Japanese companies. Not only because Sri Lanka is an interesting market, which has a 20 million population with income already as high as 3500 US$ per capita, but also because there is a prospect of the Indian market growing and the whole region is growing collectively. Sri Lanka is in a key location, key centre, for the growth of this area.
I am surprised to see so many Japanese companies are coming to see me recently just asking ‘how is it now, what is the new government going to do?” I am sure they are more coming to JETRO. They are thinking about something. We are also trying to expand the network with Japanese businessmen in Southern India you know as Tamil Nadu where there are many Japanese factories. They come to Sri Lanka and they said it’s easier to live here. So some should be thinking about setting up their headquarters here rather than in India. As the hub of this region, Sri Lanka has an advantage, and it also has the advantage of being in the middle of the sea route between Middle East and Japan.
"During the past 60 years, Japan, through JICA, has provided various kinds of financial, technical and other assistance, amounting to more than 10 billion US $, and almost 1,000 volunteers have come to the country so far."
Of course, the new government to have a transparent, stable economic policy to enable not only Japanese but other investors to increase. For instance, Japanese companies here in Sri Lanka are raising several points that needs to be improved, such as the issue of labour market, electricity charges, the duration of various procedures and red tapes, and the introduction of more transparent business related laws and policies. The fact that the new government is willing to and determined to change these issues is another reason to be optimistic. And of course, we are also trying to help the new government to implement these changes.
So with our historical friendship, continued Japanese assistance, the effort of the new Cabinet and with renewed interest from the private sector, I think the relations between our two countries is very bright. And I also think that a renewed economic growth and dynamism of Sri Lanka is really coming soon.