The Bandung Initiative

The first Asian-African Conference, or more popularly known as the Bandung Conference, was held in Bandung, Indonesia in April 1955. It brought together the newly independent countries of Asia and Africa to discuss a range of issues.

Bandung was the initial stage of a Third World movement of newly independent countries that sought to move on from their colonial histories by using the State as means to freedom, self-determination and modernization that would unite its citizens and carry them towards development. This was argued to be the essence of the ‘Bandung Spirit’. The heyday of this Third World-ism was the period from 1955 to 1975 and the call for a New International Economic Order (NIEO) by the developing world was an integral part of the Bandung Era.

Scholars of International Relations [IR] have argued that the Bandung Conference sowed the seeds for re-envisioning international society in two significant ways. Bandung’s call for equitable representation in international decision-making for the new members was marked by international justice principles, particularly that of procedural justice, in the management of international affairs. Bandung participants also articulated an alternative set of principles for inter-state engagement that emphasized dialogue and accommodation, collective and peaceful problem-solving, and the search for consensus or compromise.

By the late 1940s, the Afro-Asian movement’s specific aim had already become clearly defined, which was to speed up decolonization and achieve independence for the colonies. Although these objectives formed the basis for the Bandung Conference, the immediate focus at Bandung was that of peaceful co-existence in the broader society of states, especially between the communist and non-communist worlds. And more broadly there was the need felt for association and brotherhood amid an unfolding Cold War.

Although the 1955 Bandung Conference had been divided into three committees i.e. political, economic and cultural, it was politics that took centre-stage. But the emphasis on political matters notwithstanding, economics also was of some importance. A 12-point Economic Cooperation agenda was issued as part of the Final Communique. The economic agenda was non-controversial. The participating countries affirmed the importance of economic cooperation with states outside the region, and the value of foreign investment for their countries.

The Bandung participants endorsed the rights of governments to freely choose their own political and economic systems. But Bandung and its successor saw the independence of individual states as the primary medium to achieve freedom, development and modernization for their peoples.

The Bandung Conference did not directly address justice and fairness in substantive economic matters, but its emphasis on equitable participation and representation in international decision-making implied a concern with matters of procedural justice. The Bandung participants were not only attempting to create a more hospitable international arena for themselves but were also attempting to enhance their ability to meaningfully participate in world affairs. The core premise of Bandung was based on the belief that if IR focused on dialogue and diplomacy, there would offer far greater chances for post-colonial states to engage in world affairs than a world based on confrontation, power politics, and the use of force. Bandung’s legacy might be its emphasis on deliberative politics.