Bandung Conference: the origins of the nonaligned movement

Indonesia is asserting itself ``the Javanese way,'' without ruffling anyone's feathers. On April 24, all Asian and African nations are invited to Bandung, Indonesia, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Asian-African conference. The 1955 meeting was attended by 29 countries and is considered to have been a landmark on the way to the nonaligned movement.

The Bandung Declaration called for the right of all nations freely to choose their governments, for an end to colonial rule, for a North-South dialogue on economics, and for refraining from entering into military alliances with either of the two superpowers.

This ``South-South'' economic and cultural cooperation signaled the end of an era in which the direction of the world was decided only by the ``North'' white industrial nations.

``By enhancing this commemoration, Indonesia wants to stress the spiritual link between the Bandung meeting and the Belgrade Conference of 1961, where the nonaligned movement was founded with Indonesia's Sukarno, Egypt's [Gamal Abdel] Nasser, India's [Jawaharlal Pandit] Nehru, Cambodia's [Prince Norodom] Sihanouk, Yugoslavia's [Josip] Tito, Ghana's [Kwame] Nkrumah acting as founding fathers,'' says Indonesia's permanent representative to the United Nations, Ali Alatas.

According to one well-informed Asian ambassador, Indonesia is taking this opportunity to signal its return to a more equidistant nonalignment than the one it practiced in recent years.

Without in any way modifying its friendly relations with the West, and with the United States in particular, Indonesia has worked quietly to repair its relations with the Soviet Union. Indonesia's foreign minister, Mochtar Kusumaatmadja, visited Moscow twice last year, and several Soviet delegations went to Indonesia during the same period. And last February, Indonesia's Armed Forces chief, Gen. ``Benny'' Murdani, visited Vietnam.

At nonaligned meetings at the UN last year, Indonesia played a more active role than in the past and was more outspoken regarding Namibia (South-West Africa) and Palestine Liberation Organization rights than in the past.

Indonesia is also using the Bandung meeting, says the ambassador, to reclaim its place among the giants of global politics.

Indonesia covers 736,500 square miles (about one-fifth the size of the US), holds 160 million people (vs. 235 million in the US), and has immense mineral wealth in oil, tin, and rubber. Indonesia believes its voice should be heard along with those of China, India, Brazil, the United States, and the Soviet Union.

In particular, Indonesia is quietly preparing to become the locomotive of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. ASEAN, which includes Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and the Philippines, is currently led by Thailand.

Indonesia's relative shyness in world affairs resulted from two factors, according to diplomatic sources here. First, it had turned inward because of a difficult economic situation, due in large part to falling oil prices. Indonesia earns 70 percent of its foreign exchange from oil exports.

Second, the insurgency on Timor, a former Portuguese colony that is fighting against Indonesia's takeover in 1976, had left Jakarta diplomatically isolated and with its prestige damaged.

``On both these counts Indonesia is now near the end of the tunnel. Thus the slow process in motion aimed at playing a regional and a world role commensurate with its geopolitical weight -- yet without upsetting anyone,'' explains a Western diplomat with long Indonesian experience.

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