The Bandung Spirit and challenge of Deepening co-operation between Asia and Africa, being a paper presented at International conference on “Carrying Forward the Bandung Spirit to create a New Era of Asia-Africa   Co-operation” in Beijing China and organized by China Institute of International Studies

Sixty years ago the first ever Asian Africa solidarity Conference was convoked in the Indonesian city of Bandung. Delegates from 29 African and Asian countries participated in the conference and produced the historic ten principles of Bandung, which not only upheld the traditional tenents of international relations but encapsulated the core values of the developing countries in their aspirations to build community of shared destiny. The Bandung spirit properly situated the United Nations as the sublime aggregation of the wisdom of humanity and held its principles as sacred cornerstone of global interactions. The Bandung Conference was epochal as it provided the first opportunity for the two brotherly peoples of Asia and Africa to interact formerly.

The Peoples Republic of China played an unforgettable role in that historic meeting. Premier Zhou Enlai led the Chinese delegation, which included Chen Yi. China enriched the Bandung Conference with the five principles of peaceful co-existence. Since the Bandung Conference, the world has undergone profound changes. Asia and Africa have jointly and separately withered many storms. The exact promise of independence, especially for Africa most of whose current sovereign states were then under colonial rule are still been expected by the majority of her peoples. Bandung inspired a community of vision among the Asian-African family of genuine sovereign statehood anchored on the principles of the United Nations. China’s robust participation at the Bandung Conference enriched its famous ten principles with the five principles of peaceful co-existence.

The Bandung Conference would later give birth to the Non-Aligned movement, an immensely political force during the cold war. Though China never became a member, the position of Non-Aligned movement on issues of peace and development coincided with the views of Beijing.

The Bandung Conference in the famous ten principles proposed:
 Respect for fundamental human rights and for the purposes and the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
 Respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations.
 Recognition of the equality of all races and of the equality of all nations large and small.
 Abstention from intervention or interference in the internal affairs of another country.
 Respect for the right of each nation to defend itself singly or collectively, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.
 Abstention from the use of arrangements of collective defense to serve the particular interests of any of the big powers, abstention by any country from exerting pressures on other countries.
 Refraining from acts or threats of aggression or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any country.
 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.
 Promotion of mutual interests and cooperation.
 Respect for justice and international obligation.

In a few days from now, a key summit would open in Johannesburg, South Africa of China and African countries, 50 of the 54 countries in Africa that have diplomatic relations with Beijing. Scholars and other watchers of China-Africa co-operations talk about how the co-operation has entered a new period of pragmatism, of extensive economic co-operation as if it is devoid of the ideals and solidarity of the earlier form. However, the shared vision of an international order and co-operation based on the timeless ten principles of Bandung is the concrete framework on which the Asian-Africa co-operation have thrived.

There is no gainsaying about the economic and political fortunes of the Asian and African contemporary states. Asia no doubt, brought considerable local contents to its political, economic and social constructions. Even those that stayed the path of Western neoliberal political and economic process brought significant local socio-economic and political content to bear on it. Most of the African states in the post-colonial era stuck to the orthodoxy of neo-liberalism and the consequence have been the long-drawn expectation of the masses of the population on the concrete and material fruits of national liberation and independence.

The essence and the spirit of the historic Bandung is far more relevant now than even sixty years ago when the solidarity conference was convoked. It was then convoked against the background of the anti-colonial struggle that was sweeping through the two brotherly continents, whose fundamental national rights of sovereignty and freedom were under imperialist stranglehold. Today, to give that national right of sovereignty, a practical expression through independent choice of the path of development and to act without encumbrance in the tradition of considered national interest is increasingly coming under assault especially in Africa, where an imposed paradigm of economic construction and political organization were largely responsible for the deepening contradiction of its contemporary growth without development.

Inspite of the narratives of Africa that is rising, the majority of the people in the continent are poor, even poorer today than they were in the immediate post-colonial period of the early 1970s. Even the early 1990s when the cold war ended, Africa was subjected to the vicious stranglehold of imperialism, as distant technocrats from the Bretton Woods Institutions of the World Bank and IMF took charge of formulating the continent’s economic roadmap. The Structural adjustment programmes, the counterpart of austerity measures imposed in the early 1980s, provoked extensive distortions and disarticulation of the economies of most African states, leading to the notorious so-called lost decade in Africa. Africa was coerced through insidious political arm-twisting to abandon the thoroughly researched and elaborately discussed continental blueprint on Africa’s economic rejuvenation adopted at the Lagos plenary of the Head of States and Government of the then, Organization of Africa Unity in the then, Nigeria capital Lagos, better known as the Lagos plan of Action in 1980.

The Bretton Wood Institutions hyper reacted to that indigenous collective action on economic self-determination, by designing alternative agenda which it successfully pushed through as Africa’s blueprint of economic recovery and ironically, Africa have never really, recovered since then. Bandung was very significant in announcing to imperialism and colonial domination, a concerted determination by the continent of Asia and Africa to be free of its shackles. China’s participation at the historic conference gave the content of the anti-imperialist message a ring of urgency and seriousness. And through triumphs and travails in the past sixty years, after the conference, Beijing has not yielded an inch of the Bandung principles.

In the context of the surging currents of globalization, a process of integration that no states can escape, the principles of Bandung comes under a new challenge as its envisaged best practice of international co-operation amidst the sovereign national rights of self-determination, clashes with rampaging neo-globalism and big power politics. Already, the rampant and ignoble violation of national rights to sovereignty has imposed a heavy cost on the international system. The wanton intervention in Iraq and more recently in Libya and the continuing meddling in Syria have spawned political vacuums, from which terrorism and extremism which was largely on the wane at the turn of the century has found a forceful renewal and a rebound with terrific consequences including the reprehensible acts of serial violent mass murders, committed by the so-called Islamic state. The rise of the Islamic state is the farthest reaching consequence of the wanton breach of national sovereignty and there is no act of tyranny of any established government in history that rivals the atrocities of the Islamic state, embedded in the territories that formal states were forced to abdicate through the hegemonic politics of regime change.

To recall the Bandung conference as mere intellectual or scholarly revisitation of a historic moment is not enough, because the crisis of the world system against which the Bandung principles was propounded is still much around. The political action, a grand anti-colonial and anti-imperialist broad framework that gave impetus to the Bandung solidarity conference is more urgent today than even sixty years ago, when the historic meeting was held.

China has taken a practical lead in the practical reconstruction of the Bandung spirit. After nearly three decades of domestic reform, China has taken unprecedented bold steps to generate a framework of international co-operation that is consultative, consensual and mutually beneficial. The ‘Road and Belt initiative’, an ambitious road map of trans-regional infrastructural development that would dot the rims of Asia, Africa and Europe with life changing economic opportunities and prosperities can be reckoned with, as high point in the material expression of the Bandung spirit. The projects of the “Road and Belt Initiative”, would give the material content and enabling foundation to the Bandung spirit. The founding of the Asian infrastructure and investment Bank (AIIB), a mechanism of international finance that is consultative and co-operative, opens the space for international financial system that accommodates the challenge of developing countries and even the developed ones to access funds for development needs without compromising key attributes of national sovereignty. The pivotal roles of China in the founding of AIIB and the “Road and Belt” initiatives have given practical expression to carrying forward the Bandung spirit in a bid to create new era of not only Asia-Africa co-operation but international co-operation.

In Africa, China is driving home in her numerous corners, the Bandung spirit of co-operation. Since the past six years in a straight row, China has been Africa largest trading partner and its boldest investor. While Africa’s potentials and possibilities has been elaborately discussed and has even become the object of numerous international conferences, China has intervened in what was becoming an increasingly international circus show, not with more expert panels but with the investments, capacity enhancing initiatives and filling the yawning infrastructure gaps in the continent.

The general trade between China and Africa gave considerable market value to Africa natural resources as against when the Western monopoly buyers actually determine what they pay, how and when they pay, greatly filled the budget holes of many African states. However, a new phase and better vista of industrial co-operation to enhance capacity building and transfer of technology looks certain to break into ever innovative dimensions of Sino-African co-operation. The maritime Silk Road, the Belt and Road initiative which would traverse countries sharing the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Rim would expectedly export China’s production capacity in areas such as steel manufacturing with the potential of accelerating the Industrialization of countries within the Silk Road ambit.

The cruciable to Africa’s sustainable growth and development is not primary commodity exports even as important as that have been in filling the budget holes of many African states. But with primary prices on the downward swing and even spiraling out, the reality of its dependency is not only hitting government coffers but even meals on home tables.

In Nigeria, most workers in some of thirty six states have gone without salaries for nearly a year. The dramatic fall in oil prices, the main revenue earner for the government has resulted in the massive pressure on the local currency. On the other hand, China leveraged her enormous natural resources in the early phase of her modernization effort to create the enabling foundation for massive industrialization.

As the summit of the Heads of state and government of China and Africa opens in Johannesburg, South Africa, under the framework of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation, FOCAC, expectations would be high that the forum will leave up to its antecedents of innovative solutions and practical roadmaps to expanding and deepening Sino-Africa co-operations.

Infact, it would be no exaggeration to suggest that Sino-Africa co-operation through the energetic process of the FOCAC mechanism has been the new bold face of the Asian-Africa solidarity that was first given its practical expression in the Bandung Conference of 1955.

Asia and Africa are not just united and bound in solidarity by the common history of brutal domination but now by a challenge to create the framework for improving the quality of the lives of their people and ensure enabling global framework under which such endeavours would materialize. To safeguard the international system on the principles of the ten point resolutions of the Bandung Conference is the new frontier of national struggles of the peoples of Asia and Africa to which their shared destinies of development, peace and prosperity clearly lies. The pattern and trajectories of Asian-African co-operation, especially the Sino-African co-operation has sometimes been described as entering the period of realism, which suggests an arcane and even Machiavellian calculation devoid of the original mutual empathy and solidarity that characterized its initial phase. I do not think pragmatism or realism conceptually exactly means that Pragmatism in my view means that each stage in the trajectories of the co-operation corresponds to the objective requirement of the time and challenges of the moment but without essentially loosing the general sentiment of solidarity and empathy that is the general pattern in the co-operation process. The trajectories comprise the rational determinism of the objective conditions within time and space and also the non-rational and indeterminate timeless bond of sub-conscious solidarity. The scale and scope of Asia-African co-operation is not just quantifiable but also immutable.

The bulk of contemporary scholarly interrogation of Sino-Africa co-operation that segment its phases as if one phase is a complete break from the other, do not do sufficient justice to the integrated process of the relationship whose effects have been considerably electric since the famous handshakes at the Bandung conference, sixty years ago.

Contemporary events in the world have shown the Bandung spirit would need global re-vitalization. From the averagely well-fed European, panic-striken at another prospects of terrorist mass murder campaign as happened recently in Paris to under-nourished African worker whose plight is worsened by plummeting commodity prices, the urgency for a just and fair global order on the basis of the ten principles of the Bandung conference and guaranteed by civilized behaviours of nations in the international system, could not have been more urgent.

Following the founding of the global foremost body, the United Nations, the Bandung conference of Asia and Africa was the illuminating path to civilized norms of international behaviour, and the flagrant abuse of that foundational framework for international intercourse accounts for the current international disorder, to which a non-state actor has amassed territories from which it directs and unleashes terror on a scale never known before and the world appear helpless. The political practice of hegemonism and big power politics, most exercised in the “regime change” projects has come a full circle and revealing its bankruptcy.

The rational voice of constructive international co-operation raised at the Bandung conference sixty years, must find a renewed vigour across all regions of the world, but Africa and Asia should exert more concerted efforts to make the echo of the Bandung spirit, louder.

Charles Onunaiju
Centre for China Studies, Abuja, Nigeria.

Categories: ChinAfrica


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