The arrival of Japanese Prime Minister Mr. Shinzo Abe on an official visit to Sri Lanka tomorrow will mark the further strengthening of relations between the two countries, and a new phase in the long standing association of friendship. The visit follows the invitation extended to Prime Minister Abe by President Mahinda Rajapaksa when he visited Japan last year to mark the 60th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Interestingly, this visit to Sri Lanka by Mr. Abe follows closely on the five day visit to Japan by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when important decision were taken on Indo-Japan relations, including the increase in investment and aid to India, as well as new understandings between the two countries on defence as well as Japanese investment in Indian industry.
Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Sri Lanka, accompanied by a large business delegation from Japan is, therefore, an indication that apart from the stress on strong relations with its South East Asian neighbours, which ranks on top of Japan’s foreign policy today, Japan is also giving importance to the strengthening of relations with South Asia, and that Sri Lanka plays a significant role in this due to the country’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean and the important maritime routes there.
Sri Lanka and Japan have every reason to have good relations; especially because of the common links with Buddhism, and the position that Sri Lanka has had with the spread of Buddhism through the centuries. This important cultural link was further strengthened after the San Francisco Conference on the Peace Treaty in 1951 that followed the defeat of Japan in World War 2. Among the main aims of The San Francisco Conference, was obtaining reparations from Japan for damages to the nations that had come under attack by it in the war. But this position changed when the representative from the newly independent Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was then known) our then Minister of Finance Mr. J. R. Jayewardene, brought in new thinking based on Buddhism against the concept of reparations, that was earlier imposed on Germany after World War 1, which contributed to the rearming of Germany not very much later, leading to World War 2. He quoted the Buddha’s words from the Dhammapada “Nahi Verena Verani—Sammanti dha Kudacancam”, that “hatred never ceases by hatred, it ceases by love alone.” This had a significant influence on the entire conference and helped underline the peace treaty that followed.
Japan has always remembered this contribution by Sri Lanka, towards erasing the feelings of hatred that may have existed against Japan, and creating a new trend in world opinion that helped overcome the defeat in the war, and soon move on to re-building of the Japanese nation under peace and the new Constitution drawn up by the United States.
This gesture of Sri Lanka is well remembered in Japan, and is taught to children in schools as the strongest example of friendship that has been extended to the Japanese land and people. Our friendship has continued to grow with warmth since then.
Apart from the opportunity for Japanese investors to learn more of the actual conditions in Sri Lanka, especially with regard to the opportunities for foreign investment, this visit by the Japanese Prime Minister will also look to the strengthening of maritime security in the South Asia Region, especially in the important sea lanes of the Indian Ocean. This is an area where Sri Lanka and Japan can have easy agreement as two important island nations, with a common interest in maritime security and peace in the ocean routes of the world.
It is noted that during President Rajapaksa’s visit to Japan last year, Sri Lanka and Japan agreed to expand maritime cooperation, and the talks between President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Abe saw the cooperation between the Navies of the two countries strengthened, which was seen by the visit to Sri Lanka of the Chief of Staff of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, Admiral Katsutosi Kawano, to Sri Lanka, with much significance, being the first visit by a four-star admiral from Japan to Sri Lanka.
It is the view of many analysts that Japan would be interested in the development of the ports of Sri Lanka, due to this country’s very strategic location on the international maritime routes. It will be noted that Sri Lanka has a great interest in the security of the Indian Ocean region, and the protection of the sea-lanes here and for this purpose has established a strong relationship between India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka on maritime security in the Indian Ocean.
Similarly, Sri Lanka would be keen to show the visitors the broad policy framework of development which seeks to make Sri Lanka a hub in maritime, aviation, commerce, energy and knowledge in this region, and has already done much with regard to maritime security with the developments of the Ports of Colombo, Hambantota and Trincomalee.
Hambantota will be of special importance for the maritime hub concept, due to the large numbers of vessels that sail on the ocean routes that this part of the island faces. These aspects of development should attract considerable attention from the visiting Japanese business representatives, as well as the Japanese Government in the provision of future aid to Sri Lanka.
The several agreements that will be signed between Sri Lanka and Japan during this visit of Prime Minister Abe and his delegation will look at aspects of development in Si Lanka where Japanese investment can have a good opportunity. Sri Lanka will no doubt seek to impress on Japan the good environment that prevails for investment here after the defeat of terrorism and restoration of peace. There will be emphasis on the larger geographical area for investment, the range of opportunities available from agriculture to industry, tourism, advanced technology, and the development of youth skills, as well as innovation and creativity in the country.
Sri Lanka will no doubt show the new changes in investment policies that would be of interest to Japanese investors. These include the eliminating of administrative delays with a one-stop-shop for approvals.
The relaxation in Customs and other regulations, the good tax reliefs and other incentives offered to investors, as well as the easy repatriation of earnings and profits. They will also be glad to know that Sri Lanka has low interest rates; growth is performing well at 7.8 per cent, and 8 per cent next year, making this a very attractive location for investment today.
It should be noted that Japan offered Sri Lanka aid worth more than 40 billion Yen, when President Rajapaksa visited the country last year, and all expectations are that there will be a larger offer of aid, linked with investment too.
Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Sri Lanka will be historic one, coming 24 years since a Japanese Prime Minister last visited our country. Prime Minister Kishi Shinsuke visited this country in 1957. Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess visited in 1981. Foreign Minister Kuranari Tadashi visited in 1987 and Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu visited in 1990. Prince and Princess Akishino visited in 1992.
This is Mr. Abe’s second term as Prime Minister of Japan. One who hails from a politically prominent family in Japan, he served for a year as Prime Minister from 2006 to 2007, when he became Japan's youngest post-war prime minister, and the first to be born after World War 2.
He resigned on September 12, 2007, for health reasons. He was replaced by Yasuo Fukuda, beginning a string of prime ministers, none of whom retained office for more than a year before Abe staged a political comeback.
On September 26, 2012, Abe defeated former Minister of Defence Shigeru Ishiba in a run-off vote to win the LDP presidential election. Following the LDP's landslide victory in the 2012 general election Abe became the Prime Minister again. He is the first former Prime Minister to return to the office since Shigeru Yoshida in 1948.
This visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has all promise of being one that will be making history too, with the new trend in Japanese foreign policy, having a clear interest in maritime security, and strengthening of friendships in South Asia, in addition to the clear emphasis on strengthening in relations in South East and East Asia.