Japan Extends Olive Branch

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The Japanese Embassy on Saturday said, its Ambassador Hideaki Mizukoshi called on President Ranil Wickremesinghe on the previous day, Friday. At the meeting, the Ambassador delivered the letter of congratulation from Japanese Premier Fumio Kishida, it said.

Mizukoshi had expressed appreciation for highlighting the friendship between Sri Lanka and Japan during Wickremesinghe’s speech delivered in Parliament on 3 August and also for the respect paid on the demise of former Premier Shinzo Abe, the Embassy said.

 Wickremesinghe and Mizukoshi exchanged views on a wide range of topics and discussed ways to strengthen the long-standing friendship between Sri Lanka and Japan, it added. Discussions covered a series of upcoming events which will highlight the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and Japan, the Embassy statement further said.

The Ambassador also emphasised Japan’s continuous cooperation in various fields, such as people-to-people exchange and foreign investment for renewable energy, which will be a help for the people of Sri Lanka to overcome the economic crisis and grow further, the statement concluded.

Japan was Sri Lanka’s single largest bilateral aid donor for 26 years, ie. from 1982 to 2007, according to the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), a semi-Government think tank, before being overtaken by China, the following year 2008, during the heydays of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime.

Some of the tangible Japanese aided projects are the Rupavahini Corporation, an outright Japanese grant, the 1,001 bed Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital, another outright grant from Japan, the Upper Kotmale, Samanalawewa and Kukule Ganga hydro-electric power projects, three projects, commissioned after obtaining concessional aid from Japan, the Colombo Port Development Project which transformed the Colombo Port from being a trading port to an international transshipment hub port,The Colombo Airport Development Project and, as per information supplied by IPS, providing aid for the development of parts of the multibillion rupee Accelerated Mahaweli Development Project, telecoms network expansion and the railway and road rehabilitation projects and aid to either institute and/or uplift and/or upgrade the Peradeniya Teaching Hospital, Medical Research Institute, Institute of Computer Technology at the University of Colombo and Airport Quarantine Centre among others, according to IPS.

Japanese aid is transparent with the only unequivocal condition attached to it is that such beneficence should wholly go the people of Sri Lanka. Japanese aid comes with no kickbacks or with payments of illegal and illicit commissions. Therefore, Japanese aid is a source and a cause of abhorrence and distaste to crooked and corrupt leaders.

Meanwhile, soon after Mahinda’s younger brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the 16 November 2019 Presidential Poll one of his first acts was to cancel a Japanese concessional loan in respect of developing the first phase of the 30 billion yen (USD 285 million) Light Rail Transit (LRT) project to ease the traffic congestion in Colombo and the suburbs. This included the provision of rolling stock to be used on the rail system and the building of 16 stations spread over 15.7 kilometres (9.8 miles) at an interest rate of 0.1 per cent, repayable over 40 years with a 12-year grace period.

 The other Japanese funded concessional aid project which Gota cancelled with the stroke of a pen was the USD 400 million East Container Terminal Project repayable over 40 years and at an interest rate of 0.1 per cent.

Consequently, data on Japan International Cooperation Agency’s annual reports showed that Japanese official development assistance, fiscal 2020 over 2019 fell by 94.39 per cent ( Yen 24,454 million) to Yen 1,454 million, compared to Yen 25,908 million in fiscal 2019.

The obvious reason for this is Sri Lanka’s Constitution entrenching a powerful Executive Presidency, where, when the wrong person is in power, woe betide; to Sri Lanka. Therefore, sooner, Wickremesinghe brings in the 22nd Amendment as promised to stifle the executive powers of the Presidency, the better.

But, with the advent of Wickremesinghe to the country’s highest seat of power, Japan has extended its olive branch to the Island, an indication that Japan has faith in Wickremesinghe. The ball is now in Wickremesinghe’s court to tangibly reciprocate for the good of the country.