Feature Article

Japanese diplomacy boosts JVP

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 07 June 2005, 14:27 GMT]
Leaders of Sri Lanka’s ultra-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP) wound up a ten day visit to Japan last week, having had a strong of meetings with top officials, former prime ministers and no less than four conferences with Yasushi Akashi, Japan’s Peace Envoy to Sri Lanka, sources said. JVP leader Somawanse Amarasinghe and his delegation were invited to Japan with a view to persuading them to cease their resistance to the internationally-backed peace process in Sri Lanka, but, the diplomatic initiative failed, as the party remains adamantly opposed to the joint mechanism, the sources said.

Explaining the purpose of the Japanese government’s invitation to the Sinhala nationalist, a senior Foreign Ministry official who declined to be named, said “good relations with the JVP is crucial to push the Sri Lankan peace process ahead."

But Japan may be taking a longer term view.

Having staged two abortive and extremely bloody insurrections against the state, the JVP has risen from the ashes to become Sri Lanka’s third largest political party.

Forming an alliance with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the JVP has now completed a year in government. Yet despite being in government amid worsening economic conditions, the party’s popularity continues to grow.

Crucially, some Japanese officials feel the fast rising JVP may even be in a position to form its government in future.

Two leading representatives of the JVP - Nanda Gunatillake and its leader, Somawanse Amarasinghe - spent ten days on the official visit, being “wined and dined”, JVP sources said.

Notably, however, the party’s powerful propaganda secretary, considered by some to be a key ideologue returned to Colombo after only four days. The firebrand opponent of international involvement in Sri Lankan affairs did not receive an official invitation, sources said.

"An invitation was issued to the two main representatives of the JVP because Japan is the only country with a link to this party that has no close contacts with West,” Japanese diplomatic source said.

He explained that discussions with the JVP leaders in Tokyo focused on asking them to support the joint mechanism between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tamil Tigers to distribute international tsunami aid.

"Japan views the joint mechanism as a crucial part of the peace process and have asked the JVP to change their stance even though we will not strictly link the mechanism to back aid to Sri Lanka in contrast to the position of Western donors," a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

However, Tokyo’s hopes dimmed on the eve of the JVP’s departure. Somawansa, said on the eve of his departure said that "the JVP has not been briefed properly about the mechanism or presented with a document which is the first step needed before accepting the relief program."

"We cannot accept a move that could be a political blunder. The government is quite capable of managing relief aid through the current bureaucracy," he said.

Japanese diplomats took comfort that the expensive initiative to develop relations with JVP had borne some fruits.

Whilst in Japan, the JVP visitors have praised the Tokyo Declaration signed by Sri Lanka and international donors following an aid conference in June 2003, Japanese reporters said.

Somawansa described the Tokyo Declaration, with its stipulation of the eventual disarming of the LTTE, as a "very good document". He also attacked the LTTE as undemocratic terrorists.

But the Foreign ministry is satisfied that the JVP had learnt much on its tour of Japan, source said.

"It is difficult to expect concrete results on this visit. However, the JVP has opened its eyes to the importance of political cooperation for the sake of economic growth in Sri Lanka. Many of our discussions showed they were ignorant of intricacies and benefits of the market economy, " said one official.

On the other hand, the JVP is seen to have made substantial gains during its visit, not least the enhancement of its image as a political force to be reckoned with, with even the industrialised powerhouse, Japan, courting its goodwill.

“Somawansa has cleverly used the JVP`s first official visit to Japan, for promoting a great public relations exercise,” an analyst with a leading Japanese newspaper said.

“He used every opportunity with the local press to berate the LTTE as a vicious child robbing terrorist organization and, in comparison, paint his party as fighting for democracy and equality after having abandoned its past militancy,” he said.

In a practical sense, the JVP has also strengthened its substantial machinery in Japan.

The analyst estimated the JVP has an estimated 3,000 supporters in the country, including Japanese leftists and trade unionists who embraced older JVP members fleeing a crackdown by the Sri Lankan government in the eighties, viewing them as idealistic peasants slaughtered by a corrupt government.

"I find the JVP 's ideology visionary compared to the Japanese socialists who have abandoned true social principles," said Nagoya Horike, a freelance film director who helps foreign migrants in Japan.

"The JVP is not corrupt like other political parties and works tirelessly for the poor people which is what is needed in Sri Lanka and we support them," he said.

The Japan Communist Party invited the JVP visitors last week and its party newspaper, Akahata, carried large photos of the meeting.

But it is the Sinhala population in Japan that the JVP was most keen to visit and canvass within. The party found eager audiences.

“Today the JVP following here has expanded to include Sri Lankan Sinhala youth most of them living in Japan as undocumented workers, slaving in factories or exporting used cars and machinery back home,” said the analyst.


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