Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 2 May 2005

Asia-Africa leaders make new pledge, 50 years after Bandung

The political leaders of Asia and Africa met last weekend to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic Bandung conference.  They made a new pledge to work and stand together.  Will the fine words be matched by action?


Fifty years ago, the famous Bandung Conference brought together the generation of gifted Asian and African leaders who had won or were in the middle of their battles of independence.

The solidarity they forged then was to later give rise to the Non Aligned Movement and the Group of 77, the two big umbrella bodies under which the developing countries put forward joint positions and participate in many international fora in which they face their former colonial masters, now known as the North.

Last week, many Asian and African leaders once again gathered in Indonesia, this time in both Jakarta and Bandung, to commemorate the “golden jubilee” of the first Bandung Conference.

At last week’s meeting, there may not have been the charismatic historical figures like President Sukarno of Indondesia, Premier Chou En Lai of China and President Nasser of Egypt.  After all, the world has also changed, and problems that confronted the first generation of post-Independence leaders have given way to new issues.

But in a broad sense, many of today’s problems remain the same.  And thus there was, in the speeches of the leaders, a strong refrain of the messages that emanated from the Bandung meeting 50 years ago.

That first Bandung summit was preoccupied by the worries that even after they had won political independence, the developing countries were facing many methods of control and domination from the former colonial countries. 

The Asian and African countries then resolved to stand with one another, in an attempt to preserve and expand their independence, and as far as possible to stay out of the superpower conflict by being “non-aligned.”

Today, even after half a century, most developing countries are still under the sway of the major powers, especially the US and the European Union.  The Cold War may be over, but the developing countries are now fearful of the unilateral use of power especially by the United States, and especially after their doctrine of “pre-emptive strike,” used so clearly and so controversially in Iraq.

The Asian-African Summit, attended by 89 Asian and African heads of state and envoys, adopted the Declaration on the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership (NAASP). It focused on three areas of cooperation between the two continents, namely:

  • Political Solidarity, which commits countries to promote peace and stability and prevent conflict in the region
  • Economic Cooperation, under which steps would be taken to reduce poverty and promote greater flows of trade and investment between the two continents
  • Socio-cultural Relations, to foster more people to people cultural contacts and promote dialogue among civilizations and cultures.

The NAASP emphasizes the need to promote practical cooperation based on areas such as trade, industry, investment, finance, tourism, ITC, energy, health, transportation, agriculture, water resources and fisheries.

It also contains commitments to promote unified effort in multilateral fora, to address issues such as armed conflicts, weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, as well as to prevent conflict and resolve dispute by peaceful means.  

The Indonesian President Dr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono paid tribute to the first generation of Asian and African leaders who launched the Bandung Conference.

At a volatile time when the new world was searching for order, they awakened the collective spirit of Asia and Africa, they set forth a new course, and they ignited a new sense of solidarity and activism, that transformed the fate of the two continents.   “In short, what they did was no less than change the world and shape the second half of the 20th century”.

In his opinion, the Bandung Spirit is even more relevant today as both continents are burdened with problems, including poverty, HIV/AIDS, environmental degradation, armed conflicts and corruption.


The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recollected with pride when leaders from his continent, defying the colonial powers, came to Indonesia and joined hands with the Asian leaders to adopt the Bandung declaration. “ At that time, it seemed an audacious and creative thing to do. Looking back, it was a major turning point in world history”.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi, also the  current chairman of the NAM, reminded delegates that while the shackles of colonialism have been broken, many countries in Asia and Africa have yet to attain the proper economic and social attributes of independence.

He said  disease and ignorance continue to  exist. Multilateralism is under threat. Technological transformation and globalization have not eliminated extreme poverty. Many in the developing world believe both factors have accentuated the asymmetries that characterize multilateral system. Furthermore, “the preoccupation of rich countries with counter-terrorism has diverted much valuable resources from the development process”.

Badawi said that on UN reforms, the countries must work together to remove the power asymmetries institutionalized by the current arrangements in the UN system. The reform must aim to strengthen the multilateral system and principles should prevail over power.

The President of China, Hu Jintao, said that hegemonism, terrorism, local wars and transnational crimes are still undermining peace and stability and many developing countries are marginalized due to the North-South gap and rising trade protectionism.

Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, made the most direct speech, calling on the leaders to be faithful to the Bandung Spirit by confronting the threat of unilateralism, which constitutes as grave a threat to world peace as terrorism.

Referred to the US and Britain’s war against Iraq, Mugabe said the Summit should be concerned that the UN process has been rammed into submission by unilateralism.

He accused the US and Britain of employing sophistry and blatant lies to go to war against Iraq, making the yet-to-be-proved claim that Iraq had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, when in fact greater danger comes from America’s and Britain’s weapons of mass deception.

He also said that unilateralism, which he characterized as “fascist international dictatorship”, is also undermining democratic processes in different regions through interference in internal domestic affairs. He stressed that unilateralism or the so-called unipolar world cannot be the yardstick by which international relations are conducted. “We cherish the equality of nations, the sovereignty of all countries, and inviolability of their right to self determination”.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kenya, Chirau Ali Mwakwere,  pointed out that the international trading system is influenced by the interests of the developed world. Thus it is necessary for Asia and Africa to work together for their rights.

Thus, many fine words were said at the Summit, and the Declaration mandates that the political leaders meet again every four years while the Foreign Ministers should meet every two years.

However, there have been so many Summits, with nothing significant coming out of them.  It remains to be seen whether the meeting in Indonesia was just a nostalgic event to commemorate the historic Bandung meeting, or whether the plans in the Declaration will be acted on.