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Historic summit, commemoration by Asian-African leaders in Bandung

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Location map for Indonesia Source: Wikipedia

The heads of state and representatives of 89 Asian and African countries met this weekend in Bandung, capital of West Java, Indonesia. The three-day meeting, started Friday in commemoration of the golden jubilee (50th anniversary) of the original Bandung Conference, resulted in the discussion of a number of important international issues and future plans for similar high-level meetings and programs for action.

The two co-hosts of the event were President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia and President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. Some of the many world leaders in attendance were:

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Original Bandung conference, 1955

The 1955 Bandung conference has assumed almost mythical importance, as the giants of that age addressed post-colonial concerns of 29 Asian, African, and Middle Eastern nations, and collectively brought their interests to the world stage.

The conference, which was attended by the first Premier of the PRC, Zhou Enlai, and the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, was called the "first intercontinental meeting of colored peoples in the history of mankind" by its host Sukarno, who was also first prime minister of Indonesia — men with dreams and ambition in times of great change.

Their shared vision gave fresh impetus to the African fight for independence from colonial oppression, and articulated the meaning of the "spirit of Bandung" with ten binding principles of non-aggression and peaceful friendship. This approach bore fruit a few years later in the creation the Non-Aligned Movement, which was an attempt by so-called third world countries to coordinate their efforts to remain independent from the power struggle between the United States and Russia during the Cold War.

This year's Bandung summit

Leaders of some of the world's richest as well as poorest nations attended the summit, together representing some two-thirds of the world's population. Poverty and underdevelopment were the main issues under discussion. Also discussed were terrorism, UN reform, the breakdown of multilateralism, and the benefits and risks of globalization. In response to the recent tragedy of the December 26, 2004 tsunami, the leaders adopted a joint statement to create a shared early warning system.

On the last day of the summit, Sunday April 24, Yudhoyono said, "History will judge us [not based on what we say here, but] on the basis of what we do in the days, months and years ahead -- whether we are true to the Bandung Spirit, or we fail it through failure of political nerve.

"We will be judged on how dedicated we are to our Strategic Partnership, on whether we can make it work to ensure a better life for our children's children.

"Let us therefore work together, so that we will deserve the kindness of history." After the speeches, Yudhoyono and Mbeki signed the "Declaration on the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership".

The conference was full of symbolism and music, speeches and celebration in honor of the Bandung Spirit and an attempt to recapture some of the magic of those former days. The more than 100 participants are in number the largest-ever gathering of Asian and African leaders.

At the conclusion of the conference, led by their two-cohosts, Mbeki and Yudhoyono, more than 40 of the leaders followed in the historical footsteps of the 1955 conference, taking part in the ritual of the "Bandung walks". They strolled amid tight security from the aging Savoy Homman Hotel, to the white-columned Gedung Merdeka, or "Freedom Building".

Then the leaders each planted trees in the "Asia-Africa forest", one tree per country to symbolize close cooperation between their peoples, before getting on their jets and returning home.

Tensions at the conference

The events at the conference were overshadowed by recent tensions between Japan/China and North Korea/South Korea; however, some good did come of the countries' meeting.

Japan, China meeting

Chinese President Hu Jintao and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi are said to have met on Saturday and talked for about an hour, after Koizumi took the unusual step of a public apology at the conference. The relationship between their countries has been particularly tense in recent weeks; several Wikinews articles, cited below, describe the ongoing Chinese protests and demonstrations against Japan.

The two countries are growing commercial rivals and have ongoing territorial disagreements that pertain to certain oil and natural gas deposits they both claim. In addition, some Chinese have been offended by what they see as a Japanese attempt to whitewash their World War II record of aggression in revised school textbooks.

Hu has also taken particular offense at Koizumi's annual habit, since 2001, of visiting the Yasukuni war cemetery and shrine in Tokyo. Hu said that "[Japan should] never do anything again that would hurt the feelings of the Chinese people." Koizumi has not yet visited the shrine so far this year.

It remains to be seen if and how the two parties may resolve their deep underlying differences.

North Korea, South Korea meeting

North Korean President of Parliament Kim Yong Nam and South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hai-chan were among those attending the summit. The two are reported to have met and talked together for about 30 minutes on Saturday concerning the relationship between their countries. Their discussion is said to have touched on such issues of concern as North Korea's nuclear plans.

"It was the highest-level meeting between the South and the North since the summit on June 15, 2002. We had a great deal of frank discussions on important issues ... going beyond scheduled time. It was a good meeting. We had frank discussions about dialogue between the authorities [of the South and North] and the six party talks," Lee said.

According to Kim, North Korea would come back to the talks "when conditions were right". However, a definite timetable for resuming the six-party talks was not given. North Korea has recently boycotted the talks, and complained about certain positions taken by the USA, one of the six parties to the talks.

Program for future action

Delegates agreed to hold future meetings every two years (for foreign ministers) and every four years (for heads of state) in order to bring the principles of their strategic partnership into productive action. The next meeting of heads of state is planned for 2009 in South Africa.

Sampling of Remarks

Here are some representative comments made by various Afro-Asian leaders during their speeches at the summit.

Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations

"If we are to make our world fairer, freer and safer for all its inhabitants, the institutions of the United Nations should reflect the world of 2005, not 1945 — particularly the Security Council. I believe the time is approaching when the Member States should take a decision to make the Council more representative, including by strengthening the representation of developing countries. I also believe they should create two new inter-governmental bodies — a Peacebuilding Commission which would bring together the various actors involved in helping countries move from war to lasting peace, and a Human Rights Council in which States from all regions would participate."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India

"Mr. Chairman Sir, to meet these challenges and constraints, we must respond in a manner worthy of the Bandung spirit. Just as that historic meeting redefined the agenda for its times, we must do so once again here today. The declaration on a new Asian African Strategic Partnership outlines guiding principles for joint action to achieve our goals in a changed global environment...

"In this spirit, in cooperation with our neighbour, Pakistan, we have embarked upon a journey of peace and good neighbourly ties. I appreciate the positive sentiments expressed by President Pervez Musharaff yesterday which I fully reciprocate. We are sincere in our desire to resolve all issues in a mutually acceptable manner. This will surely bring benefit to our people and to our region."

President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa

"I am honoured to wish this historic second Asian-African Conference success, convinced that we have the will to advance the cause pioneered by some of the greatest sons and daughters of Africa and Asia. We are most grateful to President Yudhoyono, the government and people of Indonesia who have opened the hearts and home to all of us, despite the heavy burdens imposed on them by the recent natural disasters that have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and caused incalculable destruction."

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia

"The Strategic Partnership highlights the need to address issues of common concern, such as armed conflict, weapons of mass destruction, transnational organized crime and terrorism. Our strategic partnership also emphasized the need to promote practical cooperation in areas such as trade, industry, investment, finance, tourism, information and communication technology, energy, health, transportation, agriculture, water resources and fisheries. We are determined to prevent conflict and resolve disputes by peaceful means."

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