Bandung Conference of 1955 and the resurgence of Asia and Africa
The then Prime Minister of Ceylon Sir John Kotelawala has a word
with Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian Premier. An informal picture taken
at the Bandung Conference of 1955.
Since the historic Asian-African Conference in Bandung in April 1955,
the world has experienced such a transformation that one can rightly
question whether there is any purpose in commemorating the 50th
anniversary of the Bandung Conference which opened up a new chapter in
the history of nations in Asia and Africa.
The world, as a result of the spirit and the massage of Bandung, has
witnessed the emergence of new nations which, in the subsequent period,
played a major role in the field of international politics.
It was these nations, with their perceptions on the international
system, which contributed to the creation of a new world order. One
cannot discuss the importance of the Bandung Conference without making a
reference to the collapse of colonialism, and the process of the decline
of colonialism began with the triumph of the October Revolution in 1917.
According to Mikhail Gorbachev, "One of the basic features of the
20th century has been the division of the world community in to two
opposing camps. This division has fundamentally determined the whole
course of world history since 1917." It could not be denied that the
October Revolution of 1917 heralded a new era in international politics,
and the crisis of imperialism, which this epoch-making event generated,
resulted in the collapse of colonialism.
The process of de-colonisation and the emergence of independent
nations of Asia and Africa, which derived inspiration from the October
Revolution of 1917, brought into existence a new phase in the arena of
international relations, the most important landmark of which was the
historic Bandung Conference of April 1955.
It represented the most significant expression of the resurgence of
Asia and Africa, and it was with this resurgence that new nations came
forward as a new set of actors in the international arena and this
trend, thereafter, created the basis for the growth and expansion of the
Before the emergence of the Bandung Conference as a major
international event which symbolised the awakening of Asia and Africa,
the newly emergent countries, specially those countries which obtained
independence after throwing the yoke of colonialism were passive
observers of the international scene dominated by the developed nations
and the vestiges of colonialism and imperialism prevented these newly
independent countries of Asia and Africa from playing their legitimate
role in the field of international politics.
It would not be irrelevant to examine the major political factors
that preceded the historic Bandung Conference. The political changes of
the continents of Asia and Africa in the period 1947-54 heralded the
awakening of nations, which hitherto remained subjugated by the forces
of colonialism, and these independent nations, with their emerging new
political leadership, began to assert their place and equality of status
in the international arena.
On the basis of this they came to the forefront of the international
scene with a view to securing their rightful place in world affairs. By
this time, several enlightened leaders of the calibre of Jawaharlal
Nehru, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and Sukarno have spoken of the need to
play this role in international affairs.
The Asian Relations Conference of 1947 which was held in New Delhi
rightly anticipated the development and emergence of a new spirit in
both Asia and Africa. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, seeing the potentiality
of the conference as the harbinger of a powerful movement, stated that
"this conference is the beginning of something much greater-a federation
of free and equal Asiatic countries, working not merely for our own
advantage but for the progress and peace of all mankind".
Bandaranaike's speech at this conference in 1947 carried a clear
message addressed to all independent countries in Asia and Africa, which
have now emerged out of colonialism.
Sri Lanka - then Ceylon - played a key role in the initial phase by
organising the conference of the Colombo Powers, from which followed the
Bogor Conference which, in fact, was the prelude to Bandung.
It was at the Colombo Conference that the desirability of holding a
conference of Asian and African nations was discussed and the Indonesian
Prime Minister, Dr. Ali Sastromidjojo was the main exponent of the need
for such a conference with which a new foundation could be laid for a
new movement of independent nations in Asia and Africa.
It was at the Bogor Conference that a decision was taken in respect
of the number of countries to be invited to the Bandung, and in the
original list, there were thirty countries, and in addition the Bogor
Conference laid down four principals and the purposes of the Asian
The first was to explore the advance the mutual as well as common
interests of the participants; second, to view the position of Asia and
Africa and their peoples in the world of today and the contribution they
can make to the promotion of world peace and cooperation.
In 1954, it was at the Colombo Conference that Dr. Ali Sastriomidjojo
asked the following question - Where do we stand now, we the people of
Asia, in this world of ours today? The Bandung Conference was convened
to seek an answer to this question, and the leaders of Asia and Africa
themselves supplied answers to that question.
They explained where they stood; they explained to each other and to
the rest of the world. It was from their deliberations that a new
philosophy of international relations emerged and it laid the foundation
for a new movement which made a notable contribution to the then
existing world order.
The Bandung Conference, therefore, laid the foundation for a new
movement of independent nations, from which emerged the non-aligned
movement representing the political and economic aspirations of the new
nations which, for years, remained under colonialism.
The twenty nine countries, which participated at the Bandung
Conference in 1955, represented nearly one fourth of the earth's land
surface, which, in fact, was 30 million square kilometers and a total
population of 1500 million people.
The significance of this conference was that it signalled the final
collapse of colonialism and the emergence of an international force
capable of challenging the dominant role of the Western powers in the
arena of international politics.
The Bandung Conference appointed three committees to deal with
matters connected with political, economic and cultural affairs,
including in its agenda such important subjects as (1) economic
cooperation, (2) cultural cooperation, (3) human rights and right to
self-determination, (4) the dependent peoples and (5) the promotion of
world peace and international cooperation. It further declared that
nations should practise and learn to live together in peace with
another, as good neighbours and this would help in the promotion of
international peace and security.
It was also mentioned that cooperation in economic, social and
cultural fields would help in the construction of a scheme of
cooperation and partnership, and this partnership came to be built via
the non-aligned movement till its effectiveness and efficacy disappeared
with the arrival of a new world order dominated by a unipolar world.
One cannot say that the spirit of Bandung, which in the last 40 years
since the Cairo Summit of the non-aligned nations of 1961 provided
sustenance to the movement, has dissipated due to certain developments
within the existing world order. It could be revived in a different form
on the basis of cooperation and partnership, and this summit in
Indonesia in 2005 is certain to create an awareness in that direction.
The Durban meeting in August 2004 was attended by delegates from 81
Asian and African states and it examined the ways and means of meeting
the global challenges in the social and economic sphere.
It focused its attention on the need to establish a strategic
partnership among countries of Africa and Asia for the achievement of
peace, prosperity and progress in the Asian and African continents.
It was at the Bandung Conference that the five principles of peaceful
co-existence was adopted as the foundation of foreign policy, and
Jawaharlal Nehru gave it the name Panchaseela principles, which, in
course to time, became the basis of the foreign policy of many a country
in the third world.
The five principles of peaceful co-existence included; (1) mutual
respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, (2) mutual
non-aggression, (3) non interference in each other's internal affairs,
(4) equality and mutual benefit, and (5) peaceful co-existence.
These principles laid the foundation for an effective foreign policy
in the countries of Asia and Africa, and they, on the basis of this
foundation of foreign policy could assert themselves as responsible
players in an international system dominated by power rivalry in a
The question of representation of China in the United Nations was
considered and they felt that such representation would help to promote
stability in Asia and ease world tension. In the same way, since the
entry of China into the United Nations in 1971, China has played a
considerable role in international politics.
Yet another important achievement of Bandung was the contribution it
made to break the diplomatic isolation of China, and since then China
had gone a long way till it emerged as the leader of the third world. It
has now become the main exponent of the spirit of Bandung.
The Bandung Conference in 1955 addressed itself to the basic issues
in international politics, primarily issues relating to imperialism,
colonialism, apartheid and the process of de-colonization, and it, after
a lengthy debate, issued a communique which recognized the agreement to
cooperate on the basis of the mutual interest and respect for national
The main objective of the conference, as the subsequent events, amply
demonstrated, was to find common ground for cooperation among countries
with different ideologies, and this was the need of the then
international system of states.
It was this feature, which impelled Jawarharlal Nehru to remark that
Bandung was an experiment in peaceful co-existence, and Bandung,
according to him, represented a new spirit in Asia. It was this spirit,
which later became the main force of the non-aligned movement.
The Bandung, with its contribution to the reduction of tension in
Asia, produced a keen desire among the nations in Asia and Africa to
consult and cooperate with one and another in finding solutions to both
regional and world problems.
This approach came to be reflected in the United Nations and led to
the formation of the non-aligned movement which, in the last here
decades, has played a positive role in weakening both colonialism and
imperialism. It was the impact of this movement which, in the end,
demolished apartheid in South Africa.
Bandung powers were convinced that interference in internal affairs
of a state threatened the sovereignty, security and political
independence of the respective states, and these states need to be given
the right to develop and progress in accordance with the conceptions and
desires of its own people.
Bandung, therefore, advocated the policy of assistance which, in
effect, meant that it should not interfere with national sovereignty. It
took into consideration the process of exploitation of the economies of
the countries and recommended collective action for stabilizing the
international prices of primary commodities.
Now fifty years have gone, still this problems has not been solved to
the advantage of the poor countries. The impact of these decisions at
the Bandung fifty years ago influenced the United Nations to establish
organizations to assist the trade and development problems of the
Though several significant steps have been taken to promote economic
development through technical assistance and cooperation, the forces of
neo-colonialism have not been prevented from penetrating the economies
of the developing countries.
(To be continued)