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Bandung Conference Marks New Century

The historic conference of Bandung of 1955, in Indonesia, will be remembered this weekend, as Indonesia brings together leaders of the "decolonized peoples of Asia and Africa."

Back in 1955, "the spirit of Bandung" moved historic leaders like Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, Indian Prime Minister Jawahral Nehru, Egyptian President Abdul Nasser and King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia to gather in Indonesia, at the invitation of President Soekarno. It was then dubbed "the greatest gathering of all times," as decolonization gathered steam.

This weekend's Bandung jubilee commemoration, at the invitation of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono, will undoubtedly be one of the biggest Third World gatherings too, though the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was indirectly engendered by Bandung.

NAM is an organization of more than 100 states which do not consider themselves aligned to any major power. It now meets at summit level once every three years.

As President Hu Jintao of China and President APJ Abdul Kamal of India make the historic trip, joined by an impressive group of Third World leaders, Bandung holds significance today for four reasons from an Asian perspective, not only for the similarities with 1955 but also for the differences.

First, Bandung represents, once again, the rise of "Asianism," as also seen in 1955, whereby an Asian-African solidarity would propel the two regions and their people to face the decolonizing West. Now, there is no doubt Asia is rising again, especially its two most populous nations, China and India, which are trying to reclaim their rightful status in the world.

The recent summit between the Chinese and Indian premiers, Wen Jiabao and Manmohan Singh, captured world media attention, as many political analysts hailed a "new Asian century." This was quickly followed by the visit of Pakistani President Pevez Musharraf to New Delhi, the first since the failed 2001 Indo-Pakistani Summit in Agra.

Asia is thus back in the news today, just like in 1955 when it was decolonizing.

Second, Asia is in the throes of an impressive economic renaissance, which is providing the continent with its new-found confidence and self-esteem. Bandung in 1955 was the centre of Afro-Asian pride; "newly decolonized people" were then exhorted by their charismatic leaders to "exorcise the ghosts of colonization" and take pride in themselves.

Today, Asia's rise and pride undoubtedly rest on its spectacular economic rise and social transformation, led by Beijing and New Delhi.

In the 1950s, China's and India's economies constituted only 4 percent each of the world economy, but today, their combined economies amount to 20 percent.

China's growth over the past 15 years has been above 8 percent per annum, whereas India has taken off within the past six years, with growth rates of at least 7 percent per annum.

This economic emergence of China and India has been preceded by and will be followed by other Asian nations, ranging from the Republic of Korea to Southeast Asia.

Third, Bandung in 2005 will again be celebrated as the "rise of the decolonized world." China's Hu will call for greater unity in the South to face the North as an equal partner. This upcoming Bandung gathering will call for more South-South co-operation and chastize the United States (and Europe) for the unequal spread of world wealth.

Afro-Asian leaders can also use the occasion to coordinate Third World positions on United Nations reforms. In fact, Beijing has already recommended that the United Nations Security Council permanent membership should include more developing nations in order to "balance" the membership of developed countries.

Lastly, as South-South cooperation develops (though it has never really taken off in the past 50 years), Asian giants like China, India, Indonesia, Viet Nam and Pakistan can take the lead to lift Asia out of its economic doldrums, reduce its dependency on the West and fulfill the "Asian dream."

This will all transform the world, 50 years after the original Bandung moved decolonized people to stake a greater claim in their own future.

(China Daily April 22, 2005)

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'Bandung Spirit' Lives On After 50 Years
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