Saturday, June 2, 2018

What happened in the Bandung Conference?

In the midst of the Cold War, a battle of ideology between the United States and the Soviet Union, the world’s young and new nations of Asia and Africa fell victim to the rivalry of the two superpowers. They decided to take a stand in April 1955 in a conference in Bandung, Indonesia.
Merdeka Building during the 1955 Asian-African Conference

Cold War, Colonialism, and Neocolonialism

In the 1950’s the Cold War went into full swing. The Soviets expanded their influence exporting communist revolution across the globe. The United States on the other hand worked to prevent a domino effect of rising communism. The establishment of Communist China brought fear and anxiety to the US. This led to covert operations to internal affairs of countries to prevent the rise of communist parties. They along with western partners formed military alliances, like South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), in preparation to military conflicts with the Soviets or Chinese. Conflicts between different countries also became proxy wars for the superpowers.
Mao declaring the establishment of the People's Republic of China
Colonialism continued to be an issue for newly independent countries. Many countries, especially in Africa, continued to be subjugated by their colonial masters or pressured by them. Such the case of Indonesia in its pursuit to gain West Irian and the case of Algeria to gain independence from the French.

Though blatant colonialism remained an issue but a dying idea, new forms of colonialism or neocolonialism began to emerge. Under neocolonialism, countries practically had independent status but great powers exercised influence and pressure to bend “independent countries” to their will creating proxy wars and spheres of influence. USA and USSR formed military alliances that also served as instrument of exerting influence over weaker countries. Such the case in the creation of the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO).
SEATO Headquarters in Bangkok, 1950's
The challenge for the newly independent countries of Asia and Africa was to maintain their newly acquired independence and prevent from descending once again to the influence of their former colonizer or another great power. Most desired to have a neutral stand in the ideological battle as many nationalist leaders desired to improve the standard of living of their people through policies that greatly benefit them either capitalist or socialist in nature. In this atmosphere of competition, the Bandung Conference emerged.

Organizing a Conference

The Bandung Conference or the Asia-Africa Conference of 1955 traced its origins to the summit conducted in Colombo in April 1954. 5 Prime Ministers came together to discuss the possibility of a non-aligned movement of Asian and African counties. Prime Minister Ali Sastroamidjojo of Indonesia, Prime Minister U Nu of Burma (present day Myanmar), Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Bogra of Pakistan, and Prime Minister John Kotelwala of Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) attended it.

The leaders of the 5 countries that became known as the Colombo Powers agreed to a broad conference, but they contended who to invite and who not to. The main contention focused on the attendance of the People’s Republic of China – one of the biggest communist countries only 5 years old then. U Nu, Sukarno, and Nehru desired for China’s attendance but Ali and Kotalawale feared China serving as a mouthpiece of the Soviets in the Conference. The Colombo powers also decided not to invite Israel to bring into the conference delegates coming from Arab countries.

Nehru also aimed to spread his idea of 5 Principles of Peaceful Co-existence or Panchsheel being concretized and signed in Beijing at the same time as the Colombo Summit. His 5 Principle included: (1) Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, (2) Mutual non-aggression, (3) Mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, (4) Equality and mutual benefit, and (5) Peaceful co-existence. The 5 principles became the cornerstone of the Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India being signed by the 2 country’s ambassadors in Beijing at the same time as the Colombo Summit.  The 5 Principle, Nehru intended, to be another core value of a non-alignment movement.

The layout of the Asian-African Conference finalized after the Colombo powers completed their Bogor Conference held on December 28 and 29, 1954. By January, the powers sent out invitations to Asian and African countries.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru during the Bogor Conference
The Conference

29 leaders and representatives from Africa and Asia arrived in Bandung in the island of Java, Indonesia. Prime Ministers, Secretaries of States, and Ministers, representing half of the world population convened in the plenary hall of the Merdeka Building. Besides from different countries, different independence movements also sent representatives for the summit. These included Ahmad al-Shukeiri of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Makarios III of Cyprus, Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria, and a delegation from the African National Congress. Of course, American and Soviet diplomats also attended to watch the proceedings. The whole world looked towards the developments in Bandung that lasted from April 18 to 24.

In the conference, 3 committees were formed: political committee, economic committee, and cultural committee. These committees worked on future cooperation of attendees and for statements that would be written in the final communique of the meeting.

As the conference went underway, Indonesian Prime Minister Ali Sastroamidjojo served as the President of the Conference and the General Secretary of the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Indonesia, Roeslan Abdulgani, as Secretary General of the Conference. 
President Sukarno giving a speech in the Conference
Leaders and delegates gave their opening speeches and discussed issues and contentions among African and Asian nations. The conference became a drama of different interest of different countries, between neutralist and anti-communist as well as those who wanted to condemn the West and those who stood with moderate voices. Tensions also brewed on whether also to condemn the Soviet Union’s action in Eastern Europe and whether it also constitutes to colonialism.

Leaders of Ceylon and Pakistan aimed to moderate the voice of the Conference and prevent India from taking the lead in the Non-Alignment movement. Philippines, Iran, Thailand, Turkey, and Pakistan voiced their moderation with regards to views towards the west. Pakistani Prime Minister Ali Bogra and Indian Prime Minister Nehru contented on the right for collective defense. Pakistan joined the SEATO and other attendees like Turkey and Thailand also joined in some form of collective defense led by a western country.
Premier Nehru, U Nu, and Ali Sastroamidjojo during the Conference
Prime Minister Ali Bogra competed with Nehru’s 5 Principles of Co-Existence with his 7 Pillars of Peace. The 7 Pillars included Nehru’s 5 but added the right for collective defense and resolution of conflicts through negotiation and arbitration. This infuriated Nehru who hated the idea of collective defense.
Premier Zhou Enlai in Bandung
Meanwhile, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai kept his cool and shone bright in the Conference as he pushed for China’s reintegration to the international community.

In April 24, the Asia-Africa Conference came to an end. A final communique or a declaration was then published to show the voice that the conference produce. A combination of Nehru’s 5 Principles and Ali’s 7 pillars became the main point of the Bandung declaration – the Dasa Sila Bandung or 10 Principles of Bandung. It included:

1. Respect for fundamental human rights and for the purposes and principles of the Charter of the UN

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 UN

6. Abstention from the use of arrangements of collective defense to serve the particular interest of any of the big powers. 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 obligations

The declaration created an atmosphere of unity of the people of Asia and Africa, a spirit called the Bandung Spirit.

Reaction from the West

The West, in particular the United States, and the Soviet Union differed in their reaction towards the show of unity of newly independent countries in Asia and Africa.

The Soviet Union, upon the announcement, welcomed it with glee. They saw it as an area to create a socialist block aimed against western influence or at least a movement that has no sympathy to the west.

The United State on the other feared the conferenced as they viewed it as a possible area to combine anti-western sentiments and become a third bloc that stood against them. The Eisenhower government then used pressure to prevent their close allies from attending. But when it seemed that no invitee country wanted to ditch the conference in fear of being labeled as anti-Asian, the US then pursued a propaganda campaign and influence the discussions in Bandung.

They had their close allies like the Philippines, Thailand, and Iran to attend and mellow down the voice of the Conference and take the stage away from radical anti-western sentiments. They also found allies within the Colombo powers willing to stand against Nehru’s influence – Pakistan and Ceylon. The US supplied documents and briefings to different governments that attacked the communist. During the conference, they sent covert operatives to assist delegates on their stand against communism in the Conference.

The Aftermath

The Bandung Conference became the launch pad for the spread of non-alignment. It became the focus of the foreign policy of many emerging countries in Asia and Africa. Eventually, the Bandung Conference led to the 1961 Belgrade Conference that formally established the Non-Alignment Movement, an organization that created the third world.

Though Bandung created an atmosphere of unity between Asian and African nation, behind the show laid division in views and policies. The United States wanted to create division within the Conference before it began, yet it only need to exploit the already existing cracks within the movement. Ceylon and Pakistan wanted to stop the rising influence of India and Nehru. Fear and views of China and communism also differed between different countries as some stood in neutrality while other in hostility.

Then the 1960’s saw conflicts among the prominent players in Bandung. Pakistan and India continued to clash. China and India fought a war against each other in 1962. A planned 1965 2nd Asian-African Conference scrapped when the host country Algeria suffered a regime change. Then, other players in the Bandung Conference like Sukarno also saw their demise. Sukarno fell to a coup led by Suharto. Nehru passed away in 1962. Burmese Prime Minister suffered also from a military coup in 1962 that placed him in an impotent position.

See also:

Bott, Sandra et. al. Neutrality and Neutralism in the Global Cold War: Between or Within the Blocs? New York, New York: Routledge, 2016.

Michael, Arndt. India's Foreign Policy and Regional Multilateralism. New York, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

General Reference:
Berger, Mark. "Bandung Conference." In Encyclopedia of the Developing World. Edited by Thomas M. Leonard. New York, New York: Routledge, 2006.

"The History of the Asian-African Conference." In Museum Konperensi Asia-Africa. Accessed on June 2, 2018. URL:

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