The Quiet Commemoration of 69th Anniversary of the Asian-African Conference


source: Chinese Daily

The 1955 Asian-African Conference, held in Bandung, Indonesia, was a seminal event that brought together newly independent nations from across the two continents. It marked a pivotal moment in the post-colonial era, as leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Sukarno gathered to promote economic and cultural cooperation and oppose colonialism. 

The Bandung Principles emerging from this conference crystallized the voice of the newly-emerging Third World. It laid the foundations for future global solidarity movements like the Non-Aligned Movement, the Group of 77 and the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership (NAASP) –a modern iteration of the Asian-African Conference. For many, the 1955 conference symbolized the rise of Asia and Africa on the world stage.

As the world quietly commemorated the 69th anniversary of the Asian-African Conference (AAC) in April 2024, it is evident that the significance of this historic event has waned over time. Despite its foundational role in shaping post-colonial geopolitics and championing principles of solidarity and peaceful coexistence, the recent anniversary passed with minimal acknowledgment, even from the Indonesian government, which hosted the original conference.

The Silence Surrounding the Anniversary

Despite its historical importance, the recent commemoration of the Asian-African Conference went largely unnoticed. Surprisingly, there were little to no official statements or acknowledgments from the Indonesian government or Ministry of Foreign Affairs, even though Indonesia played a pivotal role as the host country of the original conference.

Moreover, media coverage and public discourse surrounding the anniversary were minimal. The only notable mentions came from the Asia Africa Conference Museum (MKAA) who held the ceremony and Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia, Lu Kang. This silence prompts us to reflect on why such a significant event was largely ignored, even within its host nation.

Possible Reasons

Several factors may explain the lack of attention given to the recent commemoration. 

Firstly, the Failures of NAASP. The aspirations of the AAC to foster broader cooperation between Asia and Africa have been largely unrealized, as evidenced by the failure of initiatives like the NAASP. Established in 2005 and revived in 2015, the NAASP aimed to expand and institutionalize ties across Asia and Africa. However, it faltered due to various challenges. Scholars like Desmond S. Andrian attribute its failure to the interest dilemma between co-chairing nations Indonesia and South Africa. During the implementation phase, Indonesia prioritized issues like Palestinian independence over trade and investment, leading to friction with South Africa. Additionally, the proliferation of strategic partnerships across Asia and Africa created an asymmetric alliance within the NAASP, further undermining its effectiveness. 

Additionally, Unlike other regional groupings such as the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) and the Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation (FEALAC), the NAASP lacks institutionalization and clear functions. This absence of a formalized framework hampers effective cooperation between Asian and African nations. Furthermore, existing bilateral mechanisms between the two continents, such as Sino-African relations, the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), Vietnam-Africa cooperation, and the Indian-African Forum Summit, further dilute the focus and effectiveness of the NAASP. 

Secondly, the Year of the Election. The timing of the recent commemoration, coinciding with election years in several countries, including Indonesia. Following the election, Indonesia entered a period of transition, marked by coalition-building efforts and preparations for the new administration set to take office in October 2024. This period of political uncertainty and transition likely consumed the attention of political elites and the public alike, leaving little room for discussions or commemorations of historical events like the Asian-African Conference. 

Thirdly, Challenges to Participation in the AAC. The declining significance of the AAC is also reflected in the diminishing participation of key leaders in recent commemorations. During the 2015 AAC, among 109 world leaders invited to attend, only 77 confirmed to attend, with 34 sending their head of state and government. Among them are the co-chair 2005 AAC, South Africa, and original sponsor states, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Lastly, Generational disconnect may also play a role, as younger generations may not fully appreciate the significance of events like the Bandung Conference in today’s world. The ideals of Bandung are increasingly distant for today’s youth, who face very different global realities.

The Importance of Remembering

Despite the lack of attention to its recent commemoration, the principles and ideals of the Asian-African Conference remain as relevant today as they were in 1955. The conference’s emphasis on solidarity, peaceful coexistence and anti-colonialism holds valuable lessons for addressing contemporary global challenges, including inequality, climate change, and geopolitical tensions. 

However, the quiet marking of this 69th anniversary could also reflect broader challenges in preserving and promoting the Bandung ideals amidst today’s complex geopolitical landscape. The muted commemoration may signal waning Asian-African solidarity and cooperation at a time when renewing those ties is crucial for tackling shared threats like climate change and rising great power rivalries. This lack of fanfare underscores the need to reinvigorate efforts to unite the two regions behind the Conference’s unifying vision.

As we look toward the future, it’s crucial to remember and reflect on the enduring legacy of the Bandung Conference, ensuring that its principles continue to guide us in building a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world order.  

The quiet commemoration of the 69th anniversary of the Asian-African Conference serves as a poignant reminder of the need to preserve and uphold the principles of solidarity and cooperation among nations. Despite the lack of hype surrounding the recent anniversary, we must continue to engage with the legacies of events like the Bandung Conference, recognizing their enduring relevance in today’s world. As we look ahead to the next conference in 2025, let us renew our commitment to the ideals of the Asian-African Conference, ensuring that its spirit of unity and collaboration continues to inspire future generations.

Allan D. Saputra is a student of International Relations at Parahyangan Catholic University, Bandung.

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