By Wang Fengjuan
Strolling down Asia-Afrika Street, the main thoroughfare of Bandung, the capital city of West Java province, Indonesia, one will see national flags of various Asian and African countries flanking both sides, a welcoming walk that culminates with the appearance of Independence Building, the venue of the Bandung Conference. In 1955, with an aim to combat colonialism and win national independence and sovereignty, the Asian-African Conference convened in Bandung. Now regarded as a historic milestone event with profound influence on the development of modern international relations, the Bandung Conference declared Ten Principles which have since served as an important roadmap guiding various nations’ pursuit of peace and cooperation.
Decades have passed, but the Bandung Spirit, which upholds values of solidarity, friendship and cooperation, still shines with a guiding significance, and the site of the conference has become a must-see destination for tourists from both within and outside Indonesia.
A Timeless Spirit
In 1955, in the shadow of the Cold War, representatives from 29 Asian and African countries and regions, most of which had recently gained independence, gathered in Bandung to discuss issues such as economic development, struggles against colonialism and promoting world peace—an awakening voice from half of the world’s population.
Under the principle of “seeking common ground while shelving differences,” the Bandung Conference eliminated external disturbances and achieved complete success, heralding a new epoch for international relations. It was the first international conference founded and organized by Asian and African countries without participation from any Western colonial power, marking the first formal presence of emerging countries as a group on the global stage. It adopted a 10-point declaration on the promotion of world peace and cooperation which incorporates and works with the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence proposed by the Chinese delegation. Advocating respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations, abstention from intervention or interference in the internal affairs of other countries, recognition of the equality of all races and of the equality of all nations, large and small, and settlement of all international disputes by peaceful means—these Ten Principles set new norms for handling state-to-state relations. At the Bandung Conference, then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai proposed focusing on common grounds rather than differences and pursuing harmony and unity among Asian and African countries that transcend ideologies and social systems, which has consistently represented the basic norms guiding China’s multilateral diplomacy.
After more than 60 years of development, once poor, underdeveloped China and its Asian and African brothers have grown into “engines of global growth” and “lands of hope,” as they continue working together to produce mutual benefits through cooperation as good friends and good partners. As colonial systems have collapsed globally and Cold War confrontations pass into history, interdependence among countries and regions has increased, resulting in peace, development, cooperation and win-win outcomes becoming the themes of the times. At the same time, however, inequality and injustice remain entrenched in the international community, the global economy remains unstable amid regional turbulence, and hegemonism, terrorism, environmental degradation and traditional and non-traditional security threats such as energy insecurity and cyber-attacks are still intertwined to challenge and restrict the sustainable development of Asian and African countries.
In today’s circumstances, the Bandung Spirit is far from outdated—it’s gaining new life as the norms for handling current state-to-state relations. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has expressed Indonesia’s willingness to work wholeheartedly with all developing countries to ensure concrete steps to strengthen and advance a more peaceful and fairer world order and achieve universal prosperity and stability. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has expressed that due to its development needs, the African continent welcomes active assistance from the international community in key areas such as infrastructure. The Bandung Spirit, characterized by peaceful coexistence and seeking common grounds while shelving differences, aligns with common development and win-win cooperation trends of the times, which has enabled it to take deep root in people’s hearts.
New Connection to the Times
Despite drastic and profound changes in the international arena, the venue of the Bandung Conference looks the same as it did more than 60 years ago. Alongside the vast array of faded old pictures on display, a color photo is particularly striking. Taken on April 24, 2015, the photo shows a troupe of Asian and African state leaders sauntering along Asia-Afrika Street to restage the “historic walk” that conjured up memories 60 years earlier, in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Bandung Conference. Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife joined Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his wife in leading the parade, waving to the crowd on both sides of the street.
At the Asian-African Summit held in Jakarta two days earlier on April 22, President Xi Jinping was the first to stride onto the stage to deliver a speech entitled “Carrying Forward the Bandung Spirit to Promote Win-win Cooperation,” upon an invitation from President Joko Widodo. In the speech, Xi stressed efforts to promote the establishment of a new type of international relations featuring win-win cooperation at the core, propel the international order and system in a more just and reasonable direction and facilitate construction of a community of shared future for mankind. On the issue of global cooperation, he proposed a three-pronged roadmap: deepen Asia-Africa cooperation by integrating the development strategies of each other and reinforcing infrastructure connectivity, expand South-South cooperation, especially dialogue and communication on governance and administration of state affairs, and promote South-North cooperation as both sides continue to consider mutual respect and equal treatment indispensable.
The new type of international relations and the concept of a community of shared future for mankind are the creative inheritance and evolution of the Bandung Spirit. Six decades ago, Premier Zhou Enlai led the Chinese delegation to the Bandung Conference at which he encouraged Asian and African countries to reach consensus on solidarity, friendship and cooperation with the philosophy of seeking common ground while shelving differences. Today, President Xi’s speech championed the theme of peace, development, cooperation and win-win results.
Strengthening awareness of a community of shared future represents contemporary significance for the Bandung Spirit. After more than six decades of development and cooperation, Asian and African countries now see better than ever that “Unity is strength,” and they are now more confident in their own future than ever before. They should vigorously promote the Bandung Spirit, enrich it with new connotations of the times constantly and allow it to continue to glow with vitality and vigor while steering the international order and system in a more just and reasonable direction.
Promoting the Bandung Spirit
As a participant of the Bandung Conference, China has made every effort to support, implement and drive cooperation among countries in Asia and Africa. From principles of “sincerity and affinity” to principles of “amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness” in diplomacy, and from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to the call to shape a new model of major-country relationships, China has taken practical action to expand choices for international rules, improve the development of the international order and interpret how to promote the Bandung Spirit in new circumstances.
Over the past five years, the BRI has transformed from concept to action and from vision to reality, promoting development and delivering substantial benefits to peoples along the route. It has received a warm response from around the world, especially on Asian and African continents, and more than 130 countries and international organizations have signed agreements on Belt and Road cooperation with China. On March 17, 2017, the UN Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 2344, calling on the international community to strengthen regional economic cooperation through the BRI. In May 2017, the first Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation was held in Beijing, resulting in fruitful outcomes. Heads of state and government from 29 foreign countries alongside representatives from over 130 countries and over 70 international organizations attended the event, and 279 concrete actionable results were yielded. The second Belt and Road Forum slated this year in Beijing is expected to achieve more results in cooperation and bring more development concepts.
Presently, emerging market countries are mostly found in Asia and Africa. Implementation of the BRI has propelled infrastructure construction, expanded economic and financial cooperation and increased personnel exchanges among “engines of global growth” and “lands of hope.” All this productivity is fueled by the spirit of solidarity, friendship and cooperation.
A Southeast Asian saying goes, “Lotus flowers grow taller as the water rises.” An African saying goes, “If you want to go fast, walk alone, but if you want to go far, walk together.” The Chinese say, “When big rivers have water, the smaller ones are filled, and when smaller rivers have water, the big ones are filled.” It has become a consensus that only through win-win cooperation can countries make big and sustainable achievements that are beneficial to all. As global integration deepens, countries should enhance cooperation to maximize common interests and enter the fast track of development.
Advocating peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefits, the BRI philosophy inherits the legacy of the ancient Silk Road while aiming to foster a community of shared future for mankind, representing the promotion and innovation of the Bandung Spirit.