Monday, May. 02, 1955


SIR JOHN KOTELAWALA, 58, Ceylon's Prime Minister, is a man Nehru tends to patronize, and others to underrate. A neutralist, he first conceived the idea of the Colombo Powers (India, Pakistan, Burma, Indonesia and Ceylon), the group of ex-colonies who won their independence after World War II and banded together this year to sponsor the conference at Bandung. Though he opposes SEATO and wishes Chiang Kai-shek would exile himself from Formosa, Sir John insists that "there is no purpose in standing neutral for the benefit of the wrong party.'' On a tour of the U.S. last year, he told everyone from President Eisenhower on down that he believes "in self-help and development for Asia—not handouts."

A member of one of Ceylon's patrician families, Sir John is strong-minded, wealthy (coconut groves and graphite mines) and sometimes unpredictable. He captained the cricket team at Colombo's Royal College, went on to study agriculture at Cambridge and rose quickly through the British colonial civil service. At 36, Kotelawala was Minister for Agriculture; at 38, as Minister of Communications, he did a well-remembered job on Ceylon's infant hydroelectric power network. Yet for all these early achievements, he did not become Prime Minister until two years ago, when he was 56. In his first three months in office, Kotelawala proved the quality of his antiCommunism. He 1) ordered the Bank of Ceylon to stop payment on funds for Communists coming in from Russia, 2) drafted stiff new penalties, with 14 years imprisonment for political subverters, 3) turned down a request from Red China for a good-will mission to Ceylon, saying: "We sell you rubber, you sell us rice. Ceylon has no other friendship or dealing with Communist China. Nor does she want it."

Other proven friends of the West (Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines) spoke effectively for the West at Bandung. The significance of Sir John Kotelawala's speech was that it came from a neutralist, who, perceiving the bogus neutrality of Nehru's anticolonialism, clearly redefined the issue. Excerpts:

ALL of us here, I take it, are against colonialism, but let us be equally unanimous and positive in declaring to the world that we are unanimous in our opposition to all forms of colonialism. Colonialism takes many forms. Think, for example, of those satellite states under Communist domination in Central and Eastern Europe—of Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, Albania, Czechoslovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland. Are these not colonies as much as any of the colonial territories in Africa? If we are united in our opposition to colonialism, should it not be our duty to declare our opposition to Soviet colonialism as much as to Western imperialism? Our friends from China might want to clarify the doubts.

"It has been the experience of most countries in this part of the world that the local Communist parties regard themselves as agents of the great Communist powers of Russia and China. They make no bones about it—why should we?

"In my country, for example, the local Communist Party has been so bold as to declare openly that, if there were a war in which Ceylon found herself on one side and Russia and China on the other, the Communists in Ceylon would do everything in their power including fighting, to promote the victory of Russia and China and the defeat of Ceylon.

"If the Communist powers are in earnest about their professions of their desire for peaceful coexistence, how should they react to such a declaration? I am aware that the stock answer to this is that the Communist parties concerned are autonomous bodies which do not take their orders from any foreign power. If this is so, then China would have nothing to lose and would gain immeasurably with all of us in prestige by publicly and formally calling upon the local Communist groups throughout Asia and Africa to disband. This reassuring gesture from Peking has not been forthcoming, and I for one am perturbed about it.

"In the light of such tactics, how is it possible for non-Communist countries to regard coexistence as a possibility, still less a reality? How can we regard coexistence as anything but a snare and a delusion until such time as the Cominform is dissolved? Here again our friends of the Communist camp have a ready answer. They say it is Russia that controls the Cominform, and what can China do about it? This argument leaves room for doubt as to whether there is perhaps a division of labor between the two great Communist powers, and that the role of China might be to look on smiling while Russia does the dirty work.

"If this doubt is unreasonable and uncharitable, we should have expected China to exert every possible influence upon Russia—I am persuaded that her influence in that quarter is by no means negligible—and we should have expected this to be done openly and in the eyes of the world. It has not been done openly. It has not been done at all.

"Coexistence implies, and indeed necessitates the total noninterference by any power in the affairs of another. Coexistence means to live and let live. I cannot for the life of me understand why we should be expected only to let live, while we ignore the threats to our own life and institutions."