180. Despatch From the Embassy in Ceylon to the Department of State1

No. 783


  • Call on Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike by Assistant Secretary Rountree and Ambassador Gluck

On February 13, while on a short visit to Colombo, Assistant Secretary of State William M. Rountree accompanied by the Ambassador made a courtesy call on Prime Minister Bandaranaike. During the course of the call the Prime Minister attempted to explain Ceylon’s policy of neutrality and to give the rationale of Ceylon’s recent political and economic development.

Bandaranaike began by declaring that the United States had been “pitched” into its present position of world responsibility somewhat against its will. The United States was a relatively new country and had followed a policy of isolation for such a long time that it really was not familiar with and did not understand developments in the Asian countries.

The Asian countries and particularly Ceylon were both old and new. Ceylon had had an ancient civilization of its own, but it had been subjected to the colonial rule of the Portuguese, the Dutch and then the English, and then had become a newly independent nation along with many of the other Asian countries in the last ten years. Bandaranaike said that Ceylon’s outlook was made up of three elements: (1) political; (2) economic; (3) cultural.

Ceylon’s political approach was a mixture of both East and West. Ceylon, like India, had followed democratic procedures in the villages for centuries, even though the rule of tyrannical kings had been superimposed on the village structures. The people of Ceylon therefore were sympathetic with Western democratic practices, and wanted Ceylon to develop along democratic lines. The Government of Ceylon therefore could be expected to continue on Western democratic principles.
Ceylon’s economic approach was socialist. The people of Asia were very poor and people who lived below the “poverty line” would follow whoever promised the most. The future economic development of Ceylon therefore would be on socialist principles subject to the democratic process, i.e., democratic socialism.
Ceylon’s cultural approach was nationalist. This was an expression of the people’s desire to return to their own customs, habits, religion, dress and language.

In discussing Ceylon’s international posture, the Prime Minister reverted to his theme that the Asian countries were both old and new and said Ceylon, like many others, believed that it could learn from other countries of the East and the West, could acquire something of value from each, and therefore Ceylon did not want to become a member of any power bloc.

In a general statement on communism the Prime Minister declared that it had different meanings in different countries, citing the cases of the U.S.S.R., Yugoslavia and the C.P.R. In the case of the Soviet Union, Bandaranaike said that the Government had distorted the basic principles of communism. Nevertheless, Communism was a “dynamic” force not subject to “containment”. The United States should not rely on containment, but should try “conversion”.

Mr. Rountree responded by explaining the U.S. attitude toward the honestly neutral countries and its own reliance on the principles of collective security.


The Prime Minister had read in a recent issue of Time2 that Mr. Rountree was visiting Ceylon to ascertain personally whether Ceylon might become another Syria. Mr. Bandaranaike therefore endeavored to leave the belief that Ceylon is not going communist, although he was not certain in this period of “transition” just where Ceylon would finally go. In the Embassy’s view, Mr. Rountree’s lucid explanation of U.S. policy was extremely helpful.

For the Ambassador:
Henry T. Smith
Deputy Chief of Mission
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 110.15–RO/2–1758. Official Use Only.
  2. Reference is to an article entitled “Conflict and Complacency,” published in Time, February 10, 1958, p. 30.