Japan as Co-Facilitator to Peace Efforts in Sri Lanka?

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Tue May 9 13:04:01 UTC 2006

>>From Asian Tribune: 2006-05-09

The Advisability to have Japan as Co-Facilitator to the Peace Efforts in
Sri Lanka

By Professor Laksiri Fernando - Ryukoku University, Japan

War is not an option for Sri Lanka. The damage and the destruction that
the war has inflicted upon the country and its peoples are testimony to
this reality. Those who wish to be blind to this realism and act
differently are doomed to fail in their political objectives at a greater
risk and disaster to their communities and to the country at large. This
reality is valid both to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)  and
the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL), two main adversaries at the war front,
although the conflict involves many others both as stakeholders and
victims. This is not at all to equate the LTTE with the GoSL or vise
versa, but to indicate that the legitimate build up of armed forces by a
legitimate government should limit to that, without allowing it to go
loose at the fringes, knowingly or unknowingly. The peace process has come
to a standstill and has in fact failed, at least in its current phase.
There are so many people who are responsible for the situation. Of course
the intransigence of the parties to the conflict has been the main
stumbling block, pressured or encouraged by various parties internally and
externally. India also should take a major responsibility to the situation
while its good will, cooperation and participation are quite necessary to
resolve the conflict.  A major responsibility has been on the shoulders of
Norway, as the official facilitator/mediator although in my opinion they
have not done their job properly or professionally. It is, however,
admitted that the conflict in Sri Lanka is extremely complicated and
intractable for any third party to facilitate, as the conflicting parties
increasingly show that they are incapable or not interested in resolving
the issues among themselves.

This is one reason why I have advocated several times that a UN
involvement or intervention is necessary. The first time was in April
1999, well before Norway was enlisted as the official facilitator. It was
not heeded or no one took serious notice of it. Perhaps the conditions
were not ripe enough as some Pundits on conflict resolution might say.
According to them, to have a direct intervention, some dramatic disaster
should happen and a considerable number of lives should be lost! To me,
this is morally repugnant. The recent instance when a UN intervention was
advocated was in December 2005, in these very columns of the Asian
Tribune, when the country was at the brink of total war. Perhaps at that
time the conditions were ripe enough! At least some quarters have taken
note of it though silently. A UN intervention, of course is not a Mantra.
It has its advantages and obvious odds. There can be failures and
successes. But a UN intervention backed by the Permanent Five will be a
definitive deterrent to total war in a country like Sri Lanka, although
similar interventions have not so successful in countries like for example

A UN intervention also can supply a framework, or compel the parties to
agree upon a comprehensive political settlement with necessary interim
measures and steps. There is a growing understanding that a comprehensive
political settlement is required, and its (not so future) contours should
now be debated moving towards that direction. Suggestions by Vasantha Raja
in these columns of the Asian Tribune should be greatly appreciated in
this respect. Such a UN intervention only will guarantee free and fair
elections in the North and the East for the people of those
provinces/regions to exercise their free will to determine their future,
and elect agreed representative bodies within a united Sri Lanka. The
almost completely demolished democratic infrastructure and traditions of
those areas should be resurrected. But at the moment I do not advocate an
immediate UN intervention in Sri Lanka. After all the parties to the
conflict went to Geneva after the lapse of negotiations for almost three
years. What they have been doing all these three years is not difficult to
guess whatever the pretexts. But war is not an option for Sri Lanka, at
least for the 20 million people living there. War might satisfy some
people but not the sensible ones, whether they are Sinhalese, Tamils or

Those who went to Geneva have an obligation to go to Geneva again and
proceed with their negotiations, whatever the odds or surrounding
shortcomings. Otherwise they cannot be considered serious (and one may
even say jokers and dangerous ones at that). I am not at all saying that
Geneva was a success. But they should make it a success and the
facilitators have a major responsibility to ensure that. Although the GoSL
and the LTTE participated at the talks in February, what has come to be
called Geneva I, the parties were not realistic or interested enough to
agree upon a range (not one or two demands or claims)  of practical
solutions to ensure the ceasefire agreement is properly implemented, with
changes or not, and further agree to move beyond to work out a
comprehensive political settlement to the ethno-political crisis that Sri
Lanka is pathetically submerged in. Obviously this lacuna has hardly been
a conducive background for the ceasefire to move forward, as it has come
to prove through the events thereafter.

I frankly wonder whether any party to the Geneva negotiations or their
advisors or the facilitators themselves cared to seriously work out in any
meaningful form the possible range of (optional) measures that could
salvage the ceasefire, identifying the disagreements and breaches in the
past. What we know is that they compiled dossiers and dossiers of
violations of the other party to be hurled at the negotiating table, apart
from some taking so-called negotiation lessons from experts. What I am
advocating at present is to involve Japan formally as a co-facilitator to
the peace process and for the preparations of the still possible Geneva
II. War is not an option, and Norway has found obvious difficulties for
various reasons to do it alone. If the efforts fail, again war is not an
option, and the option then would be to invite the UN or the UN to

Why? The destruction that the war has inflicted on Sri Lanka has been
already colossal, disregarding and even before and after the Tsunami
disaster. The material destruction or monetary cost might be measurable
and there are accounts for that. Krishna Chaitanya (ICFAI Business School,
Hyderabad) has estimated the direct cost of the war for both the GoSL and
the LTTE to be over Rs. 325 billion up to 2003. This is a huge amount
which the Sri Lankan people have to bear in the form of direct and
indirect taxes, he has commented. The burden of cost and the war applies
to the Diaspora communities as well. The Tamil migrants in Canada have to
face much of the brunt of what is going on in Sri Lanka at present in many
ways, including humiliation. Chaitanya has also estimated the cost of the
physical damage for the same period to be over Rs. 150 billion and in my
opinion it is only an underestimation. There have been many other effects
on the people and the economy in terms of loss of life, destruction or
loss of property, displacement, brain drain, loss of livelihood and the
disruption of education of children etc. and etc. The 65,000-death toll
that usually quoted in many reports is now a blatant underestimation.

The social and psychological damage that the war has caused to the sanity
of the country is immeasurable and might be immeasurable in the times to
come. The pain and despair of the victims of war are in sharp contrast to
the brutality and belligerence of the perpetrators. That contrast, quite
visible both in the North and in the South, is testimony to the damage
that the war has inflicted upon the moral fabric of the country. The most
tragic in the circumstances have been the instances where victims
themselves have become perpetrators and vise versa. There are many
countries that have gone through the agonies of war either international
or national or both. There are several among them who have understood the
futility of war honestly and sincerely. There are many others that offer
the services of peace for those who are engulfed with war, with or without
the necessary experience or indisputable motivation.  If there are
countries, however, who have gone through the agonies of war, understood
the futility honestly, and offer the services of peace on the basis of
that understanding, "Sri Lankas distant neighbor Japan"  undoubtedly is

["The Distant Neighbours: Fifty Years of Japan-Sri Lanka Relations," by
the way is a title of a book edited by Prof. WD Lakshman and published by
the University of Colombo.]

Japan's entry to the peace process in Sri Lanka is a logical one. It is
not merely because Japan has been the main donor to Sri Lanka since mid
1980s and her monies, mainly come in the form of soft loans, are at stake.
It springs primarily from its foreign policy after the WWII that has gone
through several phases of slow progression from defensive diplomacy to
mildly a proactive one after the end of the cold war. There is no secret
that Japan had a militarist reputation during the WWII, and even before,
as a country which sought to imitate some of the Western countries as an
empire builder. However, Japan also had a different history. During the
Meiji period (1868-1912), and even immediately after, Japans foreign
policy was mainly based on diplomacy, economic relations and good will to
all nations big and small.

However, as in many other countries and societies, Japan also had a dual
personality both to be equal and to be dominant. The militarist tendencies
emerged from the latter, of course rooted in many of the local Samurai
traditions of the country. It took sometime for Japan to understand that
these militarist traditions are no basis for foreign relations (or
national governance), particularly in a world where there are equally or
more strong nations which are functioned on democratic principles both in
domestic and in foreign policies. Shigeru Yoshida was one who tried to
bring this realism to Japan even before and during the WWII, who initially
was a Japanese diplomat and was extremely conversant with international
affairs. If his cry against war or cry for peace was accepted in 1944,
most probably Hiroshima and Nagasaki could have been avoided, but instead
he was arrested and incarcerated for his advocacy of peace.

It was unfortunately after Japan's humiliating defeat in the hands of the
Americans that Yoshida could emerge in politics. He served as Prime
Minister between 1946 and 1954, during which time a new democratic
constitution was promulgated, land reforms instituted, the US occupation
ended and Japans economic recovery actually began. The landed aristocracy
obviously was the backbone of Japans militarism. And most importantly, he
made a lasting impact on Japans foreign policy, which came to be known as
the Yoshida Doctrine. The corner stone of Yoshida Doctrine was the belief
that "diplomacy and negotiation are the alternatives to belligerence or
militarism. In the case of Japan, in his opinion, after a tragic period of
belligerence, even diplomacy had to be an oblique one at least until major
matters are sorted out. He has written his Memoirs with rich revelations
of his experience while explaining the underlying principles of his
foreign policy doctrine.  As he admitted by the time he wrote his Memoirs
in 1961 the orientation of Japans foreign policy may need to change from a
negative to a positive one, once Japan recover from its economic wounds.

The change did happen during the 1970s and Takeo Fukuda, as a key Prime
Minister during the decade clearly articulated this changed policy which
came to be known as the Fukuda Doctrine in Japans foreign policy. Japan
now was an economic superpower recognized both by the US and the SU
(Soviet Union), with a trade surplus of nearly US $ 10 billion every year.
Fukuda enunciated three principles. "First, Japan, a nation committed to
peace, rejects the role of a military power, and on that basis is resolved
to contribute to the peace and prosperity of Southeast Asia, and the world
community." The above has been the overarching principle of Japans foreign
policy since then, based primarily on Yoshida Doctrine, and Japans use of
the term Southeast Asia should be understood to encompass South Asia as
well.  In fact Fukuda preempted in 1977 the role that Japan has been
playing in Cambodia, East Timor (now Timor Leste), Ache and Sri Lanka in
more recent times in terms of peace building, if not so much in peace

"Second, Japan, as a true friend of the countries of Southeast Asia, will
do its best in consolidating the relationship of mutual confidence and
trust based on "heart-to-heart" understanding with these countries, in
wide-ranging fields covering not only political and economic areas but
also social and cultural areas," Fukuda stated. In addition to the second
part of the first principle, what is more relevant to Sri Lanka is the
second principle. And also it is where, Japans slow but proactive foreign
policy role started to grow although cautiously. Japan wanted to promote
itself as a friend of the countries of Southeast Asia, where Japans role
during WW II was rather reprehensible.  This included Indonesia, the
Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Burma and East Timor in addition of
course to China and Korea (both North and South)  and other parts of East

However, in the case of Sri Lanka, there was no such a bitter experience
with Japan during the WWII. Japans bombing of Colombo and Trincomalee in
April 1942 was brief and without much damage, although there is some
evidence to the effect that the prompt action by the Allied Forces
prevented a full scale Japanese invasion of Sri Lanka (Ceylon at that
time) spotting some Japanese armada in the eastern horizons almost by
accident three days before the actual bombing.

The whole experience is now reduced to few memories of some people and
families (including mine, even before I was born), who had to flee to the
countryside from Colombo areas (in my case Moratuwa) anticipating Japanese
air raids. A rich few also constructed bomb shelters in their backyards
anticipating something unusual might drop from the skies.

Sri Lanka has very clearly repudiated any animosity towards Japan 35 years
ago in 1951 at the San Francisco Peace Conference, JR Jayewardene quoting
the Buddha that "hatred ceases not by hatred, but by love" (Nahi Verena
Verani Sammantidha Kudachanan. Averenacha Sammanthi). In my present stay
in Japan on sabbatical leave I have noticed several people who knew about
it quoting the above stanza from Dhammapada in seminars on peace with some
remorse and regret. A recent public reference to Sri Lankas position came
from none other than the President of the Japan Foundation, Kazuo Ogura, a
professor who has also been an ambassador to several countries in recent
times (Asahi, 21 July 2004).

It was during Takeo Fukudas time that Japan Sri Lanka relations actually
took off when JR Jayewardene was the President of Sri Lanka. There is yet
unverified information that Fukuda in fact was at the San Francisco
Conference, as a civil servant close to Shigeru Yoshida, perhaps listening
to Jayewardenes speech.

Japan has, however, not shown any preference to any regime or party in Sri
Lanka and its foreign policy concerns are beyond those petty political
considerations. Whether Sri Lanka is headed by a Rajapakse, a Bandaranaike
or a Wickremasinghe is not a matter for them and it is a matter very
clearly for the people of Sri Lanka. That is understood.

I relate the above even in a lighter vein because there can be some who
would now get ready with their pens or key boards, locally and abroad, to
argue why Japan should not be involved as a co-facilitator. I have always
found it difficult to understand why the world has not yet completely
exonerated the present Japan from its tragic atrocities in the WWII, while
Germany or Italy has been completely forgiven or forgotten, except that
there may be few valid issues that China or Korea had to deal with Japan
in that respect.

I suggest Japan as a co-facilitator for the Sri Lankan peace process, if
the process can be salvaged or to be salvaged, not because it is a
Buddhist country, although some people might jump on the fact. Firstly, I
am not a Buddhist. Second, Japan is not only a Buddhist country; it is a
Shinto country as well. In my view, Shinto is very much similar to
Hinduism. Therefore, the Hindus on the Tamil side also should not be
alarmed by a major Japanese involvement. There are Japanese scholars who
even trace similarities between the Japanese language and the Dravidian
ones, including Tamil.

Therefore, Japan has apparent links to both sides. But those should not be
our considerations in selecting a facilitator. A facilitator should
absolutely be neutral, hundred percent committed, and most importantly,
should be capable and professional in performing the tasks. There may be
certain other factors that we need to weigh and consider.

Japans relations particularly with China are rather strained at present
and probably for some time to come. This however is not an obstacle for
Japan to play a facilitator role in peace building or peace making in Sri
Lanka (or the GoSL and the LTTE to accept her services), without hindering
the countrys extremely good relations with China. Both China and Japan are
precious to Sri Lanka among other countries or union of countries like
India, the US, Norway, Britain, Canada and the EU, especially in the
context of the ongoing peace efforts and also in economic development.

To come back to the Fukuda Doctrine again, there was a third principle
which particularly dealt with ASEAN, but that has nothing much to do with
the present situation in Sri Lanka. There have also been further
developments or elaborations of the Fukuda Doctrine. For example, at least
one aspect of what came to be known as the Takeshita Principles is
relevant. Noboru Takeshita was a Prime Minister in the late 1980s and made
a major impact on Japans foreign policy although his term of office also
was short lived like in the case of Fukuda. As he said in 1988., "[Japan]
will pursue "Cooperation for Peace" as a new approach towards enhancing
Japan's contributions to the maintenance and reinforcement of
international peace. This will include positive participation in
diplomatic efforts, the dispatch of necessary personnel and the provision
of financial cooperation aiming at the resolution of conflicts in the

"Cooperation for Peace" has been the broad policy guide that Japan has
been following in Sri Lanka since that time. However, it has been so far
limited to the general policy of peace building that can be understood in
many ways particularly because of its definitional ambiguity. Nevertheless
Japan has focused its efforts mainly on rehabilitation, reconstruction and
development in rather tangible terms particularly in the North and the
East. This has been greatly appreciated by the Tamils, the Muslims and the
Sinhalese of those areas alike.

One may say that Japan has so far mainly been involved in "cheque book
diplomacy," contributing over US $ 1 billion to Sri Lanka in direct terms,
occasioned by occasional statements highlighting her concerns over
violence, killings, confrontation, human rights, democracy, free and fair
elections, and particularly humanitarian issues. As we all know, Japan was
instrumental in organizing a Donor Conference in 2003, where the donors
pledged US $ 4.5 billion to the Sri Lankas peace process, Japan herself as
the main contributor, of which the LTTE opted unfortunately to boycott
irrespective of Japans formal and informal requests for them to

Japans policy of "Cooperation for Peace," however, does not limit to
"cheque book diplomacy." Japan does not like to see herself as a "tax
payer without representation" in many international ventures and
multilateral organizations. Her claim for a permanent seat in the UN
Security Council was partly motivated by that concern among others. The
policy of "Cooperation for Peace" encompasses "positive participation in
diplomatic efforts" and even the "dispatch of necessary personnel," apart
from the "provision for financial cooperation aiming at the resolution of
conflicts," as Takashita outlined.

Japans peace policy is of course not completely free from any
self-interest. Japan undoubtedly wishes to propel its international image.
It is, however, pleasing to see that it is done in the fields of peace,
conflict resolution, economic cooperation, cultural exchange and
development assistance. In the case of Sri Lanka, Japan may also want to
experiment its peace building capabilities as a test case. There is
nothing wrong in that and if that were successful, Sri Lanka would be the

There are of course many more things to say about Japans suitability (or
even several draw backs) to be a co-facilitator in the peace efforts in
Sri Lanka at present apart from Norway, and also its concrete experience
and contributions in peace building and peace making elsewhere,
particularly in places like Cambodia or East Timor. However, this article
also has to be reasonably short (already it is long) for any interested
reader to possibly read.

To conclude, therefore, it is almost sure that Japan would not impose
herself or even suggest herself to be a facilitator to the peace process
given her particular modest (diplomatic) character and also given the fact
that Norway is already the official facilitator with a considerable (also
controversial) contribution to the process. However, the suggestion is to
enlist Japan as a co-facilitator and to work jointly with Norway, and it
is up to the Government of Sri Lanka to invite Japan, of course with the
consent of Norway, or Norway to make the suggestion with the possible
consent of the LTTE.


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