Reviving the Bandung spirit of 1955

By Ameen Izzadeen
Some 70 world leaders, including China’s President Xi Jinping and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, gathered in Indonesia yesterday and the day before for a conference to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Afro-Asian solidarity summit in the resort town of Bandung.
Sixty years ago this month, leaders of 29 Afro-Asian states discussed how they could help one another in achieving social and economic well-being for their large and impoverished populations. They displayed determination and dedication, honesty and hard work and astuteness and aspirations to create a world free of colonialism in all its forms. They were so firm in their resolve that they called for the redrafting of the UN Charter and international treaties, pointing out that they were not party to these agreements when they were adopted.
It is said that a country’s foreign policy is an extension of its domestic policy. But during this period the domestic policy appeared an extension of the Afro-Asian-solidarity-centred foreign policy. The Non-Aligned Movement which came into being following the Bandung summit became a third force during the four decades of the cold-war-ridden bipolar world order. To say that the NAM became irrelevant or defunct with the end of the Cold War is a misinterpretation. A more accurate statement would be that many NAM nations became subservient to the United States and, of late, to China, an emerging superpower.
It is disheartening to note that the NAM solidarity that bound the developing nations together in one political unit is buried today the under self-centred and amoral policies of many developing countries, some of whom were once leading lights in the NAM.
Take, for instance, India. It has virtually veered away from non-alignment, although India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was one of the founders of the Afro-Asian solidarity movement and the NAM. The term “non-alignment” was reinvented by him during a speech he made in Colombo in 1954.
Nehru in an address to India’s parliament in 1958 said non-alignment was inherent in the “past thinking of India, inherent in the whole mental outlook of India, inherent in the conditioning of the Indian mind.”
But today, India is seen to be aligned heavily with the United States in the context of an emerging cold war against China. Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote to Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo saying that due to Budget sessions in parliament and prior travel arrangements he was unable to attend the conference. So much for India’s commitment to the NAM principles!
Then take Egypt. Its then President, Gamal Abdul Nasser, was also one of the co-founders of the NAM. Today Egypt is virtually a stooge of the United States and often seen as working against the Palestinian cause. Yugoslavia was another country that championed the movement with its leader Josip Broz Tito being a revered founding father of NAM. Today, none-of the breakaway countries of the former Yugoslavia is adhering to non-alignment.
Of the 29 countries that attended Bandung 1955, China, is today a budding superpower whose global ambitions have drawn charges that it is pursuing a neo-colonialist agenda, especially in Africa. These allegations smear China’s historic role at Bandung 1955 and cast a cloud over its fresh commitment to revive the Bandung spirit. It is worthwhile to recall how China’s then Prime Minister, Zhou Enlai, undertook the visit to Bandung despite intelligence warning that there would be an attempt to assassinate him. The plane he was to take from Hong Kong crashed following an explosion. Zhou escaped because he changed his travel plan at the last moment and took another plane.
Why criticise others? Sri Lanka’s own post-Cold-War NAM record is equally negative.
Sri Lanka’s post-Cold War foreign policy prior to the new government took office on January 8 was stark testimony to its abandonment of non-alignment. At the Cancun World Trade Organisation conference in 2003, Sri Lanka ditched the NAM camp and supported the United States. Another instance of Sri Lanka distancing itself from a NAM cause was when our envoy left the United Nations General Assembly chamber during a vote on the Palestinian crisis in 2006.
Although the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena has pledged to return to non-alignment, Sri Lanka’s under-participation at this week’s Bandung conference belies the claim. Shouldn’t we have sent at least our foreign minister? After all, Sri Lanka was one of the five countries that organised Bandung 1955 (the others being India, Pakistan, Burma and the host nation Indonesia).
Perhaps, the slip is worse than that of Prime Minister John Kotelawala, whose criticism of the Soviet Union at the 1955 Bandung conference earned him the sobriquet ‘Bandung Booruwa’ or the Bandung Ass from the then opposition leaders.
Kotelawala, in his speech, urged Afro-Asian nations to condemn not only colonialism of the West but also the expansionist policies of the Soviet Union. His comments hit the front pages of US newspapers. Headlines hailed tiny Ceylon for slamming Soviet expansionism.
These anecdotes apart, Bandung 1955 should be remembered for its 10-point declaration which is more relevant today when the world is embroiled in more wars and foreign interventions than it was 60 years ago.
It is heartening to note that 60 years after Bandung 1955, there was an attempt to revive the Bandung spirit. It appears that at least some world leaders take the Bandung principles seriously. Hats off to Indonesia, for hosting this conference!
The declaration among other things called for respect for fundamental human rights, the recognition of the equality of all races and all nations large and small, abstention from interference in the internal affairs of another country, settlement of all international disputes by peaceful means in conformity with the United Nations charter, and avoidance of the use of collective defence arrangements to serve the interests of major powers.
The declaration that was adopted against a backdrop of a deepening cold war, wars of independence, the victory of Communism in China, the adoption of Japan’s peace constitution, the CIA-engineered coup in Iran, the French defeat in Vietnam and the growing crisis in the Middle East, is worth being readopted not only at Bandung 2015 but also at the UN General Assembly sessions this year.
Resurrecting the Bandung 1955 principles could be one small but potent effort at solving the current conflicts and defusing situations that threaten to explode into all-out wars. In this light, the participation of China and Japan at Bandung 2015 was significant. They should make Bandung 2015 an opportunity to solve the territorial disputes between them in the East China Sea. In keeping with the spirit of Bandung 2015, they should also take the leadership to solve other world conflicts such as the Palestinian problem, the Indo-Pakistan dispute, the Syrian crisis and the latest war in Yemen. Then in 40 years’ time when Bandung marks its 100th anniversary, the two countries would be remembered for their peacemaking role.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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