Did Japan contribute to Sri Lanka’s independence?
Posted on June 29th, 2019

By Janaka Perera

An interesting debate over who brought independence to Sri Lanka, India and the rest of European colonies in Asia took place at the Gamini Dissanayake Auditorium, Mahaweli Centre, Colombo, last Monday (June 24, 2019).

An entirely different perspective to the historical narrative sparked off the debate at the Royal Asiatic Society sponsored public lecture.  The speaker was Attorney at Law Senaka Weeraratna, who addressed the gathering on Did Japan Contribute to Sri Lanka and India gaining Independence from British colonial rule?

Mr. Weeraratna is the first Sri Lankan and first Asian to thank Japan on the premises of the Japanese Parliament (Conference Room No. 101 of the Diet) for making huge blood sacrifices of Japanese soldiers and thereby paving the way for the liberation of Europe’s Asian colonies including Sri Lanka, at a symposium organized by Japan’s Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact, in November, last year.

The crux of his argument was as follows:

The time has come to challenge the hype that Sri Lanka won independence from Britain in 1948 exclusively by our own local efforts through an exchange of correspondence and political negotiations without any supportive foreign factor. This British centric – friendly narrative is increasingly unsustainable in the light of new evidence.

Moreover, it is political correctness and tendency to please our former colonial rulers that has prevented an objective appraisal being undertaken taking into account the external factors that contributed substantially towards the gaining of freedom from colonial rule.

It is indisputable that Japan struck the greatest decisive blow ever by any non – white country or non – white people to European power in Asia with the attack on Pearl Harbour.  In about 90 days beginning on December 8, 1941, Japan overran the possessions of Britain, France, the US and the Netherlands in east and south-east Asia, taking the Philippines, Singapore, Malaya, Hong Kong, the Dutch East Indies; much of Siam and French Indochina and Burma with bewildering swiftness to stand poised at the borders of India by early 1942.

While members in the audience expressed different views on this subject, especially on Japan’s motives, none could deny the following fact:

That the British in the late 1940s were compelled to depart the shores of India and Sri Lanka neither because of Gandhi’s non-violent civil disobedience movement nor because of the peaceful agitation for Dominion Status by D.S. Senanayake and other leaders but because World War II drained the British economy and sapped her energy making it difficult to further maintain the empire.  

If not for Japan the war would have been confined to Europe and the Middle-East.  Regardless of Tokyo’s motives it was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that ignited the anti-European liberation movements in South and Southeast Asia. Asian Leaders like Subhas Chandra Bose, Myanmar’s Aung San and Indonesia’s Soekarno were quick to grasp the opportunity and secure Japanese assistance for the freedom movements, though Japan was eventually defeated in the war.

However for the British, the French and the Dutch it was a Pyrrhic victory.  In the following decade they lost their Asian empire.  

These events made J.R. Jayewardene (then Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister) to oppose the isolation of Japan and call for Japan’s re- integration into the international community, without imposing harsh punishment by way of reparations, at the San Francisco Peace Treaty Conference in 1951, when many Western nations demanded payment for reparations for damages caused during the war. The two other men who were closely associated with J.R. Jayewardene’s historic speech, were the then Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake (who gave instructions to J.R. Jayewardene to toe the line as preached by the Buddha ‘ “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.”) and Sir Susantha Fonseka , then Sri Lanka’s first Ambassador to Japan (who was an ardent supporter of the Japanese cause, and even the influence behind the government’s decision not to ask for war compensation). 

Janaka Perera

22 Responses to “Did Japan contribute to Sri Lanka’s independence?”

  1. Dilrook Says:


    Japan is the only country that bombed Sri Lanka.

    Sri Lanka and most other European colonies were granted Independence by the Atlantic Charter agreed by the US and the UK in 1941. It was later approved by some others.



    Adherents of the Atlantic Charter signed the Declaration by United Nations on 1 January 1942, which became the basis for the modern United Nations.

    The eight principal points of the Charter were:

    1. no territorial gains were to be sought by the United States or the United Kingdom;
    2. territorial adjustments must be in accord with the wishes of the peoples concerned;
    3. all people had a right to self-determination;
    4. trade barriers were to be lowered;
    5. there was to be global economic cooperation and advancement of social welfare;
    6. the participants would work for a world free of want and fear;
    7. the participants would work for freedom of the seas;
    8. there was to be disarmament of aggressor nations, and a common disarmament after the war.


    We must give credit where it is due.

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    YES! Japan contributed in a HUGE WAY to independence for former colonies of Western colonial nations!

    Japan did that by WEAKENING the ECONOMIES and WILL to KEEP FIGHTING of these Western Colonial Nations.

    The British took the easy way out. Britain did not want to face another series of prolonged wars in South Asia in particular, South East Asia and Africa in general. The bloodletting of the British nation in WWII (a mere 20 years after the bloodletting of WWI that eliminated a generation of young British men) was ENOUGH for the Brits!

    Other European nations that tried to hang onto their colonial possessions, ultimately were FORCED to give up after unsustainable losses in BLOOD and TREASURE! Examples are France (eg. Vietnam, Algeria), Portugal (Mozambique, Angola), Belgium (Congo), Spain (Western Sahara), Netherlands (Indonesia) etc, etc ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

    Therefore, EMPHATICALLY, YES!

    World War II was DISASTROUS for most European Nations, but a BLESSING for colonies of the Western imperialists, for it drained their TREASURIES, their people’s BLOOD and ultimately their WILL to hang onto the colonies ill-gotten lands of their HAPLESS VICTIMS!

    Winston Churchill, an avowed British Imperialist, famously said “I will not preside over the DISSOLUTION of the British Empire!”. But, the British people HAD HAD ENOUGH of the recent BLOODLETTING of WWII, and unceremoniously HEAVED Churchill right out of the PM’s Office to write his memoirs of imperial granduer!

    Had the British Imperialists prevailed, South Asia’s emergence into self-governing nations would have been SIGNIFICANTLY DELAYED, but NOT HALTED, for in the end, the FINAL RESULT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE SAME after more misery for all. WWII had opened the eyes of the patriots of colonized countries, and showed them that the SEEMINGLY INVINCIBLE COLONIALS could be DEFEATED and KICKED OUT in short order with or without their consent. Examples abound!

  3. samurai Says:

    Christie, as usual, is talking rubbish (“so-called British colonies were Indian colonies”).

    There was no ‘India’ as such before the British occupied the major part of the subcontinent North of Sri Lanka. During some stages of its ancient history the Northern part of it was known as Bharat.

    The British brought the major part of the subcontinent under one administration, which became known as British India, which included today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh. It was the Jewel in the Crown of the Empire on which the sun was supposed to never have set.

    Although for purposes of easy communication we use the term ‘India’ when talking about the subcontinent’s history, the term itself is a corruption of the word Sindhu. Before the European encounter there were no ‘Indians’ in today’s sense, but Gujaratis Marathis, Dravidians, Kashmiris, Punjabis, Sikhs etc.

    That the British created an artificial country is proved by the fact that after the British departure it broke into three states: (1) what we call India today (2) Pakistan and (3) Bangladesh. And now Kashmiris too want to break away. Tamil Nadu tried it in the 1960s but failed.

    There’s no colonialism today as we have known in the past. It ended more than four decades ago. What we now have are vassal states of varying degree. Japan is a virtual vassal state of the U.S. Sri Lanka might perhaps end up as a vassal state of the U.S. or China or India or became a country like old China which had spheres of interest serving big powers.


  4. aloy Says:

    This is a lie. These guys hold public discussions, debates etc. to promote their interests while Sinhalese are being killed like cats and dogs on the roads. A few days ago six Sinhalese (from a border village) were killed when the tractor they were traveling while returning from a temple was hit by a van driving at a speed of 120 km/h hit from behind. Many others had been injured. The driver of the van supposed to be from the east was returning from KIA according to him. I very much doubt this as it can even be premeditated murder. Was he driving all the way from KIA at that speed?. The road would have been wide enough to avoid the tractor. The reporter also did not mention a word about the perpetrator although every details of Sinhala people were mentioned in the article to which I give a link below. This must be the policy of media now, because of sanhindiyawa.

    Today Derana lunchtime news reported another killing of three Sinhala women traveling in a car somewhere in the A9 off Anuradhapurapura, that had been hit head on by a truck driven by a muslim man.

    It seems the culling of Sinhalas going on unabated while the likes of Senaka go on talking trivia that does not help us in anyway. I am sorry for deviating from the thread.


  5. Dilrook Says:

    If Japan won over Ceylon the war crimes the Japanese would have done would dwarf all the war crimes of other invaders combined.

    Ceylon’s independence had nothing to do with Japan. It was decided since 1939 when US-UK discussions commenced to contain Germany (not Japan). USA entered the war on the promise of the 8 points.

    The 1951 US manipulated San Francisco Peace Treaty was a fraud on China, Korea, etc. Disgustingly Sri Lanka and Pakistan became party to it and paid a heavy price for it later. The Soviet Union was not fooled as it grabbed what Imperial Japan stole, a few more islets and refused to negotiate. China must get back the island of Okinawa and other Chinese territory illegally grabbed by Imperial Japan.

    To return the favour, Japan lent us a large amount of loans at a very low interest rate. The catch was the yen was appreciating. Anything more than 0% interest rate was a massive profit for the lender and a massive burden on the borrower. Further, in 2003 Japan promised a loan of $4.5 billion to Sri Lanka if LTTE controlled areas were recognized as a separate state according to a proposal by “co-chairs”.

  6. samurai Says:

    There’s one major point in the article I agree with. It is the outcome of Japan’s World War II role – NOT her motives. The armed conflict that began in Europe in 1939 and spread to the Middle-East by 1941 became a World War only after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December of that year. The resulting six-year global conflagration undoubtedly drained the economies European colonial powers. They had to fight on two fronts: defending their own lands and also their Asian colonies. Consequently, though the Western Allies were victorious the white colonialists had lost the strength to regain and maintain their colonies for long, despite attempts to do so. The result was they lost all their colonies within about two decades after 1945.

    What is important is the fact that the anarchy and chaos her entry into the war created became an impetus for Asia’s freedom movements, especially in India, Indonesia, Myanmar and French Indo-China (now, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos). One of the best examples of this is that of General Aung San’s Burma Independence Army which initially fought on the side of the Japanese but later switched sides on condition that the British gave the country independence after the war.

    Japan’s WW II policy in Asia went in two different directions. In East Asia they colonized and invaded countries like Korea and China. But in Southeast Asia the Japanese attacked and overran countries almost all of which were European colonies, not independent states, unlike what German Nazis did in Europe. The Japanese targeted Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) for the same reason and bombed not the civilian population but military installations and other places they assumed would be used for military purposes.

    Trincomalee became the home base for the British Far Eastern Fleet after the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942. Ceylon was also the transit point for Allied troops heading for battle fronts in Japanese occupied territory, after training exercises here. Later the HQ of the Allied Southeast Asia Command under Admiral Louis Mountbatten was shifted from Delhi to Peradeniya, Kandy. It was there at the end of the war the British signed the agreement with General Aung San to give Myanmar independence.

    Some 80 odd civilians were killed as a result since some of them were working at these places (like the Colombo Harbor) or were in the vicinity. The attack on the Angoda Mental Hospital was a mistake since the authorities here had failed to put up a Red Cross sign over the building.


    The Atlantic Charter’s eight principal points were excellent but the problem was the U.S. soon forgot about it after the end of the world war. To them containing Communism became more important than helping Asian colonies to regain their freedom. The Americans did nothing to prevent the French from reoccupying Indo-China and the Dutch from doing the same in Indonesia (then East Indies).

    In the end it was mainly the Soviets and the Chinese for their own interests helped Asian anti-colonial movements. Even the Non-Aligned Movement was tilted towards the Soviet Bloc as a result.

  7. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    Christie !! When Japan dropped bombs in Ceylon, There were NO Tamil Tigers. I was in my early teens then. I was out in the garden early morning that April, when I heard a hum. When I looked up, there were Japanese planes over us, and I started counting. They were flying together in Threes. Just then the Sirens went off, and we all ran into our trench, which every household had for protection against bombs. Then there was anti-aircraft fire, and the British Spitfires took off from the Racecourse bordering Bullers road, and entered into Dog Fights with Japanese planes. However they bombed the Colombo Harbour, and one of the Japanese Planes crashed into the Kanatte Cemetary. Memories of Childhood days.

  8. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    CEYLON’S INDEPENDANCE WAS NEGOTIATED BY DON STEPHEN SENANAYAKE, FATHER OF DUDLEY SENANAYAKE. He would ride his horse early mornings, at Galle Face, and it was near Galle Face Hotel, that he fell off his horse, and met with his sad demise. He was a Stately man. So kind.

  9. Ananda-USA Says:

    Yes, if Japan won by retaining its conquests in WWII, it would have been an UNMITIGATED DISASTER for the Asian nations colonized by the West, for it would traded one set of slave masters for, arguably, a worse one.

    That ASSESSMENT was why the colonized peoples of that day helped their colonial masters defeat Japan. They did not want to fall from the frying pan into the fire. They did not want to cut their noses off to spite their faces. As far as they were concerned they had to choose between TWO EVILS, and they chose what they decided was the LESSER EVIL, the DEVIL THEY KNEW rather than the mostly unknown DEVIL of Japan that in the previous 10 years had laid waste the land mass of China and Manchuria and had wantonly murdered its people.

    NEVERTHELESS, the fact is Japan’s strikes against the Colonial Masters of the West, WEAKENED them beyond recovery, and allowed our colonized nations to emerge EARLIER THAN OTHERWISE from the shackles of serfdom, sometimes by negotiation during the war years and at times through actual armed struggles!

    Dilrook wrote “Ceylon’s independence had nothing to do with Japan. It was decided since 1939 when US-UK discussions commenced to contain Germany (not Japan). USA entered the war on the promise of the 8 points.” Dilrook, please provide the references for this, for I disagree strongly.

    I am not aware of such a decision made in 1939! Certainly independence movements in colonies had been demanding their independence, but the Colonizing nations had not agreed to grant such independence. Influential leaders like Churchill are on record as being against letting go their captive nations.

    For example, even after WWII, France led by De Gaulle and others fought tooth and nail to retain colonial possessions in IndoChina and North Africa. France gave up Indochina only after the abject and total defeat at Dien Bien Phu by the Viet Minh. France later gave up Algeria only after Algerian nationalists brought the French occupying forces there to their knees in a bitter and bloody struggle that tore war-weary France apart.

    The war-weariness of the West is what the colonized nations took advantage of to seize their independence; a fact that is BEYOND DEBATE!

    In any case, no such decision made in 1939 was decisive in the grant of post WWII independence to colonies of the West. Independence has to be wrested from the cluthches of a war-weary West by the threat of continued conflict where feasible and by actual force where necessary.

  10. Dilrook Says:


    You can research the Atlantic Charter and its preceding discussions. Not just Ceylon but it covered all British colonies. Of course Britain retained some but Ceylon, India, etc. gained Independence.

  11. Dilrook Says:


    Obviously no Tamil Tigers then but if you compare Colombo City’s ethnic composition between 1931 and 1946 censuses, you can see Tamil population percentage increasing. Tamils invaded Sinhala property in Colombo left behind by fleeing Sinhalese fearing Japanese bombs. Japan in fact did bomb Colombo but was repulsed.

    Sri Lanka must demand Japan that it writes off all loans to Sri Lanka on account of the destruction it caused.

    Sri Lanka was defended by the British and the Americans along with locals in that instance. Without them the horrors of Manchuria would have befallen locals, particularly the Buddhists.

  12. Randeniyage Says:

    I agree. This is alarming. This kind of “accidents” have been increased a lot.

    Who cares whether Japan contributed to our independence or not when we are worse off than at that time ?

    Both Japan and China doing business in order to carryout their national agendas. Our Komis Kaakos have personal agendas.

  13. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:


    Lots of Sinhalese families left Colombo. My ancestral home is at Nawala, a six bedroom house, and we all fled to Padukka to an estate, leaving only the Ayah to look after the house. Two days later, my father and mother came back, and me and my two sisters stayed back for about another week, till father came for us. At that time, Japanese were supposed to be allegedly ruthless. Now the world has changed.
    I remember the Racecourse was converted to an Aerodrome, and the Britishers were living in the Grand Stand. Most of the Mercantile Companies were British, with British Managing Directors. They gradually left when SWRD came in.

  14. Ananda-USA Says:


    I saw a Derana TV video which indicated that the ” six Sinhalese” were not Sinhalese, but Tamil Speaking Muslims. I think their names were also published. Please check again and let us know.

    But, as a result of your comment, I will now be more alert as to whether there currently is a concerted effort to kill Sinhalese people in staged “street accidents” by Muslims and others.

    I certainly hope not, but acknowledge it is possible, for it now happens often in terror attacks by Lone Wolves in Western countrie.

  15. Ananda-USA Says:

    Dilrook and Susantha,

    My family too rented out our large home at the Templers Rd/Galle Rd junction in Mt Lavinia to house the Buddhist Girls College in Mt Lavinia and went to reside with my grandparents in Gampaha. However, my family returned to our home in Mt Lavinia after the war ended.

    The Buddhist Girls College was located at the Mt Lavinia hilltop “mound” near and “above” the Mt. Lavinia Hotel. As a boy I have played many a private cricket match there with friends against other local cricket teams. This Buddhist Girls College building was taken over by the military during the war years. They had installed Naval-Defense and Anti-Aircraft batteries at that hilltop and also maintained an army base there. The Buddhist Girls College vacated our house and returned to its original premises after the war ended.

    I was born in 1948, 3 years after the war ended, and did not experience any of these WWII-related events (although I did attend DS Senanayake’s funeral as a boy much later). I attended S. Thomas in Mt Lavinia for my entire schooling, as did my elder brother and two younger brothers. I distinctly recall that after dark we were afraid to go near two trees under which, as reported, two dead Japanese pilots were buried. Presumably, the trees were “haunted”! We were told that their Japanese Zero planes had been shot down by RAF fighters that had taken off from Ratmalana airport, and that they had crashed in the S. Thomas College Big Club grounds adjacent to the sea. These two trees were directly in front of the lower school buildings, which have now been upgraded and bear little resemplence to the classrooms I sat in. I regret not being able to easily visit the happy hunting grounds of my old school now, and explore the nooks and crannies we played cops and robbers in, because access was strictly controlled after the days of LTTE terrorism.

    Contrary to the experiences you have recounted here, my personal knowledge is that many families who relocated during the war did so temporarily, and they returned to their homes in the Colombo area after the war.

    Also, the time span between the WWII war relocations that affected our families, and the LTTE terrorism that compelled Tamils to move in to Colombo later is quite large. Most probably there is no connection between the exodus of Sinhalese in the WWII war years and the influx of Tamils during the years of LTTE terrorism.

  16. Dilrook Says:

    @Ananda and Susantha

    Thanks for sharing.

    That is true – the move was temporary. But some families delayed their return and when they returned found Tamils occupying their properties. They had to compromise to avoid litigation. As a result 5% Ceylon Tamil population in Colombo City in 1931 increased to close to 9% by 1946.

    A similar thing happened around Trincomalee area.

    Apart from the Japanese the other group to bomb Colombo was LTTE. The same thing happened at a much worse scale over 25 years. In 1981 Sinhalese were over 50% in Colombo City. But by 2012 reduced to 30%.

  17. Randeniyage Says:

    Familiar stories !
    Did you have a friend at 7 Circular Road ?

  18. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:


  19. Ananda-USA Says:

    Keep on trucking Susantha, may you live long and be happy!

    Besides, old soldiers never die … they don’t even have to fade away!

  20. Ananda-USA Says:


    Yes, more than one friend!

  21. Randeniyage Says:

    I know all of them. Youngest was my best friend those days. He is still living there. We hanged around there a lot !

  22. Randeniyage Says:

    Please watch this. Very scary. We are finished unless we stop this at any cost.
    Is this Sri Lanka ?
    Is there a single Sinhalese living in Sri Lanka ?


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.



Copyright © 2024 LankaWeb.com. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress