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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.

Wiswa Warnapala

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 Non-aligned movement.

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 African Conference.

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 bipolar world.

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 sovereignty.

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 developing countries.

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)










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