Revisiting the 1955 Bandung Asian-African Conference and its legacy
The Bandung conference of 1955 was the result of political vision and meticulous planning. It marked the first ever summit-level meeting of independence leaders. It had an extremely important legacy, sparking organisations of developing countries like the NAM and the G77.
By Adriano José Timossi
On April 18-24, 1955, leaders of Asian and African countries gathered in a historic meeting in Bandung, Indonesia. They included Premiers Chou En-Lai of China, Jawaharlal Nehru of India, U Nu of Burma, President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt besides President Sukarno of Indonesia, and leaders from Liberia, Sudan, Gold Coast, Jordan, Iran, Ceylon, Nepal, Pakistan and Philippines. The meeting of these leaders was a key point in the history of developing countries that gave rise to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the concept of the Third World or the South. At the start of the Cold War between the West and the former Soviet Union, the leaders of the developing countries gathered in Bandung asked for an alternative way of just global governance and global justice, to achieve greater social and economic development for their people, and to continue the process of political and economic decolonization.
Sukarno’s Opening Speech
In his opening speech at the first Asian-African Conference, President Sukarno of Indonesia recognized that the gathering of the leaders of the 29 Asian-African independent countries was a result of the sacrifices made by their forefathers and by the people of their own and younger generations. “The hall was filled not only by the leaders of the nations of Asia and Africa but also contained within its walls the undying, the indomitable, the invincible spirit of those who went before them”, he said. Their struggle and sacrifice paved the way for this meeting of the highest representatives of independent and sovereign nations from two of the biggest continents of the globe. In a historic event, Asian and African peoples were meeting together to discuss and deliberate upon matters of common concern to them.
Sukarno stated that the burden of the delegates attending the Conference was not a light one. “For many generations our peoples have been the voiceless ones in the world. We have been the unregarded, the peoples for whom decisions were made by others whose interests were paramount, the peoples who lived in poverty and humiliation. Then our nations demanded, nay fought for independence, and achieved independence, and with that independence came responsibility. We have heavy responsibilities to ourselves, and to the world, and to the yet unborn generations. But we do not regret them”.
Below are some extracts of his speech:
“We are often told ‘Colonialism is dead’. Let us not be deceived or even soothed by that. I say to you, colonialism is not yet dead. How can we say it is dead, so long as vast areas of Asia and Africa are unfree. And, I beg of you do not think of colonialism only in the classic form which we of Indonesia, and our brothers in different parts of Asia and Africa, knew. Colonialism has also its modern dress, in the form of economic control, intellectual control, actual physical control by a small but alien community within a nation. It is a skilful and determined enemy, and it appears in many guises. It does not give up its loot easily. Wherever, whenever and however it appears, colonialism is an evil thing, and one which must be eradicated from the earth.
“If this Conference succeeds in making the peoples of the East whose representatives are gathered here understand each other a little more, appreciate each other a little more, sympathise with each other’s problems a little more – if those things happen, then this Conference, of course, will have been worthwhile, whatever else it may achieve. But I hope that this Conference will give more than understanding only and goodwill only – I hope that it will falsify and give the lie to the saying of one diplomat from far abroad: “We will turn this Asian-African Conference into an afternoon-tea meeting”.
“I hope that it will give evidence of the fact that we Asian and African leaders understand that Asia and Africa can prosper only when they are united, and that even the safety of the World at large cannot be safeguarded without a united Asia-Africa. I hope that this Conference will give guidance to mankind, will point out to mankind the way which it must take to attain safety and peace. I hope that it will give evidence that Asia and Africa have been reborn, nay, that a New Asia and a New Africa have been born!
“Our task is first to seek an understanding of each other, and out of that understanding will come a greater appreciation of each other, and out of that appreciation will come collective action. Bear in mind the words of one of Asia’s greatest sons: “To speak is easy. To act is hard. To understand is hardest. Once one understands, action is easy”. Let us remember that the highest purpose of man is the liberation of man from his bonds of fear, his bonds of human degradation, his bonds of poverty – the liberation of man from the physical, spiritual and intellectual bonds which have for too long stunted the development of humanity’s majority.”
The other 28 leaders also spoke eloquently in calling for unity among Asian and African countries and for greater solidarity, self-determination, mutual respect for sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, and equality.
The Bandung Final Communiqué 1955
The Final Communiqué of the 1955 Bandung Asian-African Conference provided the basis for South-South cooperation with concrete proposals for promoting economic, political, technological, cultural spheres. It declared full support of the fundamental principles of human rights as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations and took note of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations in a moment in history when many South nations were still under Western colonial rule.
The communiqué deplored all forms of racial segregation and discrimination. In declaring support for the cause of freedom and independence for all peoples it also deplored colonialism, in all its manifestations.
The communiqué took note that several States had still not been admitted to the United Nations, and that for effective cooperation and world peace, membership in the United Nations should be universal. The leaders also considered that representation of Asian and African countries in the UN Security Council, in relation to the principle of equitable and geographical distribution, was inadequate, as it is today. The right to self-determination, stated the communiqué, should be enjoyed by all peoples.
The Ten Bandung Principles enunciated in 1955 continue to be as relevant today as it was 60 years ago and in the decades since. These are as follows:
“Free from mistrust and fear, and with confidence and goodwill towards each other, nations should practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours and develop friendly cooperation on the basis of the following principles:
“1. Respect for fundamental human rights and for the purposes and the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
“2. Respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations.
“3. Recognition of the equality of all races and of the equality of all nations large and small.
“4. Abstention from intervention or interference in the internal affairs of another country.
“5. Respect for the right of each nation to defend itself singly or collectively, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.
“6. (a) Abstention from the use of arrangements of collective defense to serve the particular interests of any of the big powers,
(b) Abstention by any country from exerting pressures on other countries.
“7. Refraining from acts or threats of aggression or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any country.
“8. Settlement of all international disputes by peaceful means, such as negotiation, conciliation, arbitration or judicial settlement as well as other peaceful means of the parties’ own choice, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.
“9. Promotion of mutual interests and cooperation.
“10. Respect for justice and international obligation.”
The 1955 Bandung communiqué concluded by expressing its conviction that friendly cooperation in accordance with the 10 Principles of Bandung would effectively contribute to the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security, while cooperation in the economic, social and cultural fields would help bring about the common prosperity and well-being of all.
What has the Bandung spirit achieved in 60 years?
In the six decades after the 1955 Bandung Conference that gave rise to the “Bandung Spirit” of South-South cooperation, decolonization has for the most part taken place, with most developing countries now independent. The basic principles of Bandung, namely, mutual interest, solidarity and respect for national sovereignty, continue to play important roles in shaping and guiding the relations of developing countries with each other. Developing countries have also joined the United Nations and actively developed different regional and multilateral South-South institutions to defend and promote their common interests in the various multilateral negotiating processes. The “Bandung Spirit” continues to animate and motivate the spirit of South-South cooperation, as can be seen in the fact that the recent 60th anniversary commemoration of the 1955 Bandung Conference saw over 100 developing countries from Asia, Africa, and Latin America participating.
More importantly, the 1955 Bandung Conference led to the establishment in 1961 of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). This was followed by the establishment of the Group of 77 (G77) in 1964. These two multilateral groupings of the South together enable developing countries to actively voice and articulate their views and perspectives on political and economic issues, respectively, in the United Nations and other international arenas and to promote the unity and solidarity among the developing countries of the South in their common struggle for a fairer world. Other multilateral Southern institutions such as the South Centre (and its precursor the South Commission) can also trace their intellectual and political lineage to the 1955 Bandung Conference and the South-South spirit that it engendered.
Several regional initiatives which have taken shape in Africa, Asia, and Latin America in the past decades are also concrete reflections of the ideals of South-South cooperation and solidarity discussed in Bandung and adopted by leaders in the Final Communiqué. These include the African Union, the African continent’s primary vehicle for greater continental integration. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) are two newly established initiatives that are contributing to open a new era of integration among the countries of the regions and their representation in global affairs with greater independence. It is also the case of Asia, with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) among many other initiatives. The emergence of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) grouping itself, as well as recent projects such as the BRICS Development Bank and the Bank of the South are important examples of the vision of South-South cooperation from Bandung. These and many other developments that have taken place, and which continue to take place, in the developing world are all examples that point to the continuing relevance of the intellectual and political legacy of the 1955 Bandung Conference.