Study in China sparks a journey of inspiration – Admiral Piyal De Silva | Sunday Observer

Study in China sparks a journey of inspiration – Admiral Piyal De Silva

25 July, 2021
Admiral Piyal de Silva delivers the presentation on Application on Sun Tzue’s principles in maritime warfare at the NDU
Admiral Piyal de Silva delivers the presentation on Application on Sun Tzue’s principles in maritime warfare at the NDU

Sri Lankan Ambassador to Afghanistan and former Commander of the Sri Lanka’s Navy Admiral Piyal De Silva extended warm congratulations on the first anniversary of the Chinese National Defence University (NDU) Alumni Association of Sri Lanka, and the 94th Anniversary of the Founding of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). As an NDU alumnus, Admiral Piyal De Silva shared his China life stories and experience in UDU. He became a master of Chinese Kongju and developed “Green and Blue domain” in the Trincomalee Naval Dockyard to protect the environment, a similar way he had seen in China.

Excerpts of the interview

Q: During your one-year study in China, you achieved PLA NDU outstanding graduate thesis and made lots friends. What that impressed you the most in China? What is the biggest gain there? Any good memories would like to share with us?

A: I had a dream of visiting China for a long time, especially to see The Great Wall. My dream came true in 2011. I got the opportunity to represent a tri-service delegation that was nominated by the Ministry of Defence to visit China, and to discuss the training courses being conducted between two countries. It was my first visit to China. I felt so excited to see lots of things, including The Great Wall.

After visiting advanced training facilities, I wished I could come to China again to obtain the National Defence degree. In 2013, I was lucky enough to realise my dream again. I became an alumnus of the College of Defence Studies (CDS), which is affiliated to the National Defence University (NDU). The NDU is the highest military education institution in China. I feel proud of it.

I learned the Military Science and National Security Strategy at CDS. It is a comprehensive training course, consisting of eight modules. In addition to the academic training, we had diverse related field visits. At the same time, it was also a good chance to learn Chinese culture, as well as China’s economic and technological development.

I presented the thesis on “Coping with Maritime Improvised Explosive Devices for Protection of Harbours and SLOC- Lessons from Sri Lankan Experience”. I selected the topic, which is befitting the contemporary asymmetric maritime warfare and my own experience in active participation in counter maritime terrorism. 

I made a lot of friends in China as I engaged in many sports and recreational activities during my free times.

China’s cultural heritage, the systematic and rapid economic, social and technological development impressed me the most. Besides, I feel that Chinese people are hospitable.

One day I went to the park near the college. While walking I saw a group of people doing a strange activity with a spin and a thread connected to two sticks. It really caught my eye.

I asked an elderly gentleman in the field what kind of sport is that. He told to me that the sport is called Konju. It is helpful for muscle and mind coordination. I observed what they were doing for a while and tried by myself, borrowing from them “the strange thing”. 

Although the elderly gentleman showed me the skills again and again, I tried many times and failed. I determined to learn it. The next day I bought a Konju and went to the park. Those people warmly welcomed me. I gradually learned 12 different skills and finally showed it at the graduation gala of the CDS, which surprised all my classmates and the staff of CDS. It was a unique experience!

I still do it when I have free time. Perhaps I am the only Sri Lankan who performs this activity in Sri Lanka.

Q: From the “Blue and Green” domain in Trincomalee Navy Camp, to the idea of Sun-Zi strategy to cope with local locusts, you must have got many inspirations from China experience. What impact does China study have on you?

A: The Art of War of Sun Tzu that we learnt under the course of war history and military thinking inspired me a lot. I delivered a presentation at the NDU on application of SunTzu’s principles in Maritime warfare in Sri Lanka. Sun Tzu has said “the most Significant point for the purpose of creative execution is the idea of making your way by unexpected routes.” I applied his principles for possible strategic approaches and decision making during my career. It was proved to be successful.

Well, the “Green and Blue domain” in the Naval Dockyard, Trincomalee is also one of such creative initiatives which produced measurable results. I decided to declare the Naval dockyard which is a spectacular territory spanning over 900 acres covered by vegetation and surrounded by deep blue to be a model for conservation and protection of the environment.

This creative idea came to my mind having seen the parks maintained in many places of China in the similar way. It is worthy to mention that Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka also assisted me in providing three electrical golf carts and 50 bicycles adding value to the project. 

After the training course in 2013/2014, I was fortunate to go to China again in 2015, as the head of the inspection team for the acquisition of Off Shore Patrol Vessel and certificate award ceremony of Master of Science in Military Science and Strategic Studies and in 2018 for Beijing Xiangshan Forum. When I visited CDS for the second time in 2015, I was happy to see the grown trees that I planted in 2014 by attending a tree planting campaign organised by CDS.

Q: On April 21, 2019, Sri Lanka suffered the terrorist attack which shocked the world. Only three days after the tragedy, you overcame difficulties and went to China to participate in the PLA Navy‘s 70th Anniversary. PLA provided Sri Lanka with a lot of equipment and training in response to the bombing. What do you think of the achievements of the interaction between the two armies?

A: I was invited by the Commander of the PLA Navy, Admiral Shen Jinlong to attend PLA navy‘s 70th anniversary from April 22 to 26, 2019 and to deliver the presentation on Global Ocean governance based on the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits: the cooperation and operation of Navies.

I had planned to depart for China in the morning of April 22 and the unfortunate incident of the terrorist attack happened on April 21. I immediately informed the Chinese Navy Commander that I would not be able to attend the event. Colonel Chang told me that my presentation slot has not been changed. Admiral Shen expects that I would attend and deliver the speech. Subsequently, I managed to get the approval from the Ministry of Defence and departed for China. 

I had the privilege of having breakfast with Admiral Shen the next morning and made a fruitful discussion on matters of mutual interest. The numerous supports extended by the China in capacity building after the bomb attack on April 21, 2019 were of an immense value and highly appreciated. The ship that I inspected in 2015 and recommended for acquisition also came to Sri Lanka in 2020 and was productively utilised for off shore maritime patrols.  

Q: Recently, Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, solemnly declared the completion of the goal of building China into a moderately prosperous society in all respects. 2021 is the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party as well as the 94th anniversary of the Founding of the Chinese People›s Liberation Army.  What is your impression of the China’s economic development and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army?​

A: China successfully achieved enormous development and realised the betterment of the Chinese people as well as supporting many countries including Sri Lanka for their economic, social and technological development.  

Q: What do you think of the achievements of the interaction between the two militaries? In which fields do you think the two Navies can further strengthen cooperation?

A: The two navies can further enhance the cooperation on Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), disaster management and capacity building. The sharing of experience of both Navies in Maritime operation can be achieved through diverse capacity building programs.