Asia

The Bandung Conference as global event

E-dossier #1: The African-Asian conference, Bandung, April 1955, as a global event

The 1955 Bandung conference was one of the most important conferences held in the twentieth century. It’s also one of the least well known. Leaders of the major independent Asian and African countries gathered at this Indonesian city from April 18-22, 1955. There, they first set in motion the concept of South-South solidarity — newly-independent countries of Africa and Asia gathering to seek common ground. It was a French writer who dubbed this group “the Third World.” It was at the United Nations where the new independent governments began to found common ground. But it was in Bandung where it began.

This e-dossier tells the story of the Bandung conference through the conference bulletin and additional documents.

The African-Asian Conference Bulletin was published in the lead-up and aftermath to the conference and on a daily basis while the conference was going on. It was produced by a conference secretariat staff and published by the Indonesian ministry of information. Molly Bondan, a member of the conference information staff, recalled that much of the material produced in English at Bandung aimed at outside audiences.

Map of Bandung conference attendees, according to Life Magazine.

Just as the conference targeted global audiences, outside powers tried to understand it through Cold War lenses. Thus Life, for instance, tried to divide conference participants into “red,” pro-West, uncommitted, and “neutralist” groups.

The conference itself resisted Cold War divisions and aimed to offer an alternative world of Asian and African agency -a story chronicled in the pages of the African-Asian Conference Bulletin.

Issue 1 (March 1955) highlighted the conference’s origins, reprinted the Bogor communique of the inviting governments (Burma, Ceylon, India, Indonesia, Pakistan), and included logistical information and world press opinion.

Contents:

  • Asian-African Conference: Towards its realisation
  • Joint communique of the Bogor conference (India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma, Indonesia), December 29, 1954
  • Premier Ali Sastroamidjo and the International News Service
  • List of invitees
  • The Joint Secretariat
  • Facilities for the press
  • World press opinion

The participants (Afghanistan, Burma, Cambodia, Ceylon, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gold Coast, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, North and South Vietnam, and Yemen) had, the Bulletin noted, been “subjected to the colonial policies of the Western Nations. Colonialism separated these once-colonised countries from each other and prevented their closer cooperation.” Thus they had been left divided, undeveloped, dependent.

The Bandung conference provided a means of redress and of replacing Cold War competition in Asia with peace — a concept projected globally. “We are not seeking peace for ourselves alone,” Indonesian premier Ali Sastroamidjojo is quoted as saying in the lead article. “Humanity is standing at a crossroads of history, and much of the responsibility for the future of humanity rests upon us, the peoples of Asia and Africa.”

Issue 2 (April 1955) added further background information: a statement by Indian prime minister Nehru; information on the conference organs and the city of Bandung; basic information on countries expected to attend and on their leaders; and continued the world press review that was to become a feature of each issue.

Contents

  • Premier Nehru : “Asian-African Conference essentially an experiment in co-existence” [address to Indian parliament, February 25, 1955]
  • The Organs of the Conference
  • Bandung is Ready
  • Capitals, Population and area
  • Who’s Who in the Conference [profiles of the five sponsoring prime minsters: U Nu (Burma), Sir John Kotelawala (Ceylon), Jawaharlal Nehru (India), Ali Sastroamidjojo (Indonesia) and Mohammad Ali (Pakistan)]
  • World Press Opinion

Nehru’s prominence at the head of the issue indicated expected India’s leadership role, while a detailed list of officials from the five sponsoring countries revealed the organizational sinews of the planned conference. The event mattered: the list of 29 participants’ population and area listed a total of 1,422.414,485 people – close to “half the world’s population,” as a Burma Star article printed in the Bulletin put it.

The conference was opened by Indonesian president Sukarno, delivering his fist English-language speech. It was written by British national Tom Atkinson and Australian citizen Molly Bondan, both of whom backed the Indonesian revolution in the late 1940s and subsequently worked as Sukarno’s English-language speechwriters.[1] The president, of course, put his own unique stamp on the draft.

Sukarno’s speech, titled “Let a New Asia and New Africa Be Born,” paid tribute to “the Conference of the ‘League against Imperialism and Colonialism’ which was held in Brussels almost thirty years ago,” and noted the key difference: “We are again masters in our own house. We do not need to go to other continents to confer.” This was the result of struggles for independence on behalf of “the unregarded, the peoples for whom decisions were made by others whose interests were paramount, the peoples who lived in poverty and humiliation.” Colonialism was “not yet dead” but endured in “its modern dress, in the form of economic control, intellectual control, actual physical control by a small but alien community within a nation.” Speaking to American audiences, he linked anti-colonial struggles to the American revolution.

Full text of Sukarno’s speech.

[1] “Surat keterangan mengenai Pidato Bung Karno dalam Bahasa ingerris, 1955-1966,”  affidavit on Sukarno’s English-language speeches, Jakarta, 14 Feb. 1979, in National Library of Australia, Molly Bondan papers, MS4739, box 1, file 4.

The opening ceremonies also featured in Issue 3 (18 April 1955) of the Asian-African Conference Bulletin, which began the daily run aimed at conference attendees and began efforts to link them by a print report of conference goings-on and global responses. Its focus was on the opening ceremony: the keynote speech by Indonesian president Sukarno, the election of a chair – Indonesian prime minister Ali Sastroadmijojo – and his own subsequent speech. The usual world press review followed.

Contents

  • Speech of President Sukarno [full text]
  • Election of Chairman
  • Address by President of Conference [Ali Sastroamidjojo]
  • Watching the Opening Ceremony
  • World Press Opinion

In his own opening speech, Ali Sastroamidjojo denied any intention of forming and “anti-white bloc” and spoke of the need for “genuine peace,” an end to colonial rule and racism, cultural cooperation, and action against Asian and African poverty, the result of centuries in which these regions had “poured a never-ending stream of profits into the dominating countries, but we ourselves stayed poor and under-developed.”

Apart from Indonesian words, this issue emphasizes Indonesian welcome and readiness and provides an evocative description of the visuals of the opening session.

The opening speeches were summarized by the British embassy in a dispatch dated April 26, 1955, available here.

Issue 4 of the Bulletin (April 19, 1955) devotes the bulk of its space to opening statements by some of the delegates, before turning to a laying out of agendas and committees, which reveal the conference main concerns – economic co-operation; cultural co-operation; human rights and self-determination; problems of dependent peoples (colonial rule); and peace. Economic and cultural cooperation were the only topics to be given full committees, and all decisions were to be taken unanimously – so everyone present received  a veto.

The Bulletin considered it worth special mention that many delegates “were attired in their colourful native costumes,” an indication that cultural distinctiveness was to be valued. So too was Indonesia’s ability to host a major event, with mention made, for instance, of capacity to send 300,000 a day of cables.

The “who’s who” section passed from the five sponsors to a single profile of Egyptian leader Nasser, a sign of the high respect he could command.

Contents:

  • Address by Heads of Delegations [Prince Norodom Sihanouk/Cambodia; Sir John Kotelawala/Ceylon; Lt. Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser/Egypt; Kojo Botsio/Gold Coast; Dr. Mohammed Fadhil El-Jamali/Iraq; Ato Aklilou Habtewold/Ethiopia; Tatsunoke Takasaki/Japan]
  • First Working Decisions of the Conference
  • Reception at Governor’s Residence
  • Who’s Who in the Conference [Gamal Abdul Nasser]
  • Desks and Facilities
  • World Press Opinion

Issue 5 (April 20, 1955) featured a short message penned for the Bulletin by Ceylon’s prime minister, John Kotelawala, who would emerge as the leading critic of communism at the conference. In this message, typical “Bandung spirit” thoughts are evident: he wrote of a “new era” in which “Eastern nations” had “been reborn in a divided world,” of global tensions, of the “pressing” need for economic development to complete freedom struggles. “We have to rebuild the traditions of our lost civilizations, and we have to infuse in our people a will to better themselves,” he wrote, pairing looks at recovering past greatness with a future-oriented desire to build. The main task of Bandung, he thought, was to build mutual understanding among nations present – “an area of understanding in Asia and Africa.” The economic and cultural committees report on their first day of meetings and more delegation head speeches are printed.

Along with the global press review, cables of greetings from overseas are listed to show the global scale of the event. These come primarily from Soviet-bloc figures such as the Chairman of the USSR’s Supreme Soviet and from leaders official and unofficial in the global South – the new local government of Singapore,  Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus, Cheddi Jagan of Guyana, the Somali Youth League and others. Finally there are messages from civil society in the West, such as the Christchurch Peace Council in New Zealand and the United Negro Committee in London.

At the same time, the Bulletin makes no effort to hide contrasting views of the conference. Chinese and Vietnamese delegates were “expected to use all of the tactics of world Communism, developed in the nearly 30 years since the Russian revolution, to tum this Asian-African conference into a cosmic anti-
American demonstration,” in the words of a St. Louis newspaper article printed in the Bulletin’s world press review.

Contents:

  • The Conference Secretariat
  • Message from Sir John Kotelawala
  • Cables of Greeting
  • Communique of Economic Committee
  • Communique of Cultural Committee
  • Addresses by Heads or Delegations  [Sami Solh/Lebanon; Momolu Dukuly/Liberia; Mahmoud Bey Muntasser/Libya; Mohammed Ali/Pakistan; Carlos P. Romulo/Philippines; Khaled El-Azam/Syria]
  • Who’s Who [Kojo Botsio; Chou En-Lai [Zhou Enlai in modern spelling]; Sayed Ismail El Azhari; Prince Wan Waithayakon Krommun Naradhip Bongsprabandh]
  • World Press Opinion

Issue 6 (April 21, 1955) includes only US press opinion, which uis sumamrized rather than printed in full. Reporters were sending out 280,000 words a day by cable, the Bulletin reported.

To the prepared opening speeches, China’s Zhou Enlai (named here using the old transliteration as Chou En-lai) added a defence against the criticism that communism was a new form of colonialism. “The Chinese Delegation has come here to seek unity and not to quarrel,” he began. Different ideologies could co-exist at the conference, he argued, going on to defend China against accusations that it did not respect freedom of religion and squarely confronting the “question of the so-called subversive activities” leveled against communist governments. “The problem at present is not that we are carrying out subversive activities· against the governments of other countries, but that there are people who are establishing bases around China in order to carry out subversive activities against the Chinese Government,” he said, naming the United States as chief offender. “We have no bamboo curtain.” he concluded, but some people are spreading a smokescreen between us.”

Contents:

  • Communiques
  • Some Important Section of Addresses of Heads of Delegations [Sardar Mohammad Naim/Afghanistan; Sayed Ismail El Azhari/Sudan; Prince Wan/Thailand; Fatin Rustu Zorlu/Turkey; Chou En-lai/China (prepared and supplementary speeches); Nguyen Van Thoai., State Of Vietnam]
  • Conference News Traffic
  • Who’s Who in the Conference [Mahmoud Muntasser; Carlos P. Romulo;
  • The American Press
  • A Teaparty for Women Guests

Issue 7 (April 22, 1955) included a boost to China in the form of the text of a dual nationality treaty Zhou concluded along with the host Indonesians, and the text of what would have been North Vietnam’s opening statement, if Pham Van Dong had not arrived late for the conference. The “world opinion” section featured statements from visitors not representing their government, including from African liberation movements (from South Africa and French colonies in northern Africa) and a former head of Australia’s external affairs department, John Burton. Press reports included both the positive (Indonesian Observer) and the negative (The Economist, Britain). The editors took the chance to promote Indonesian dance and music by summarizing the opening reception.

Contents:

  • Communique
  • Treaty on Dual Nationality
  • Extract, Statement by Pham-Van-Dong
  • Who’s Who in the Conference [Dr. Mohammad Fadhil Jamali; Tatsunosuke Takasaki; Momolu Dukuly]
  • Some Groups of Delegates [pictorial spread of delegations from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Nepal and Ethiopia, several showing “national costume”]
  • World Opinion
  • Press extracts
  • Memento of Opening Day Reception

In Issue 8 (April 23, 1955), the first page after the contents includes a telegram of good wishes from Canada’s prime minister Louis St. Laurent, the only Western leader to offer an expression of support. The Indonesia-China agreement gets more coverage with the text of speeches from Zhou Enlai and Indonesian foreign minister Sunario. World opinion includes statements by Archbishop Makarios and the Singapore Labou Front, both representing still-colonized countries. A lengthy press review section features multiple views from Indonesia, Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union and Australia.

Contents:

  • Communique
  • Speeches at the Signing of Treaty between China and Indonesia
  • Who’s Who in the Conference [Prince Norodom Sihanouk; Katay Don Sasorith; Major-General Sovag Jung Thapa
  • Conference Miscellany [pictorial spread of delegation photos – Gold Coast, South Vietnam, Iran, Lebanon]
  • World Opinion

The Conference Bulletin Issue 9 (April 24, 1955) is the final number of the daily run distributed at the Bandung conference. Its major document is the conference’s final declaration, a well-known document that is widely available. (The full text appears here.) The declaration led with a desire for more economic cooperation and aid – including mutual technical assistance and a new UN Special Fund for Economic Development, to be called SUNFED. It sought a more stable market for primary commodities (exported by most countries present) and more national economic self-reliance. Under the cultural cooperation heading, delegates called for more respect for their cultures, an end to colonial rule and racism, and mutual educational exchanges. Colonialism and racism were condemned again in the human rights section, which also offered an endorsement of United Nations mechanisms – though there was a call for more Asian adn African voice on the Security Council later in the document. The debate between China and pro-Western countries was bridged by condemning “colonialism in all its manifestations [as] an evil which should be speedily brought to an end.” Special reference went to “the rights o[ the people of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to self-determination and independence” from France, Palestinians rights, Yemen, and Indonesia’s claim to the Dutch-ruled territory of Papua (called West Irian in the declaration). On peace, the declaration sought “universal disarmament is an absolute necessity for tile preservation of peace and requested the United Nations to continue its efforts” in this direction. A final declaration on peace reflected the “Panch sheel” principles spelled out by India and China.

The editors sum up Bandung as ending the time when “Afro-Asia” was “little more than a slogan.” Indonesia had proved up to the hosting challenge, they noted, adn the result had been a significant event in global context comparable to “the early days of the League of Nations

Contents:

  • Final Communique of the A.A. Conference
  • Closing Speech by Conference President [Ali Sastroamidjojo]
  • Conference in Retrospect
  • People and Places at the Conference [pictorial spread of local scenes]
  • The Memorable Last Day
  • Bandung During the Conference
  • World Press
  • Formation of Asian-African Journalists’ Association

US Ambassador’s views on Indonesia-China joint communique

United States ambassador Hugh S. Cumming reported the embassy’s views on the Indonesia-China joint statement and the Bandung final declaration, seeing them as signs of leftward drift and worrying over the possibility of Indonesian alignment with communist China.

Telegram From the Embassy in Indonesia to the Department of State, 29 April 1955

President Sukarno visits Chairman Mao Zedong, Peace Hotel, Beijing – probably in 1956. From the wall of the hotel, photographed 2013

Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai’s report on the Bandung conference

Bandung provided an opportunity for the Communist-led People’s Republic of China to improve relations with its Asian neighbours, who were at times nervous of China’s growing strength. Premier Zhou Enlai [Chou En-lai] delivered two speeches, signed a joint nationality agreement with Indonesia, met many leaders, and was generally agreed to have improved China’s relations with non-communist Asian states. Zhou’s report on the conference recommended that China welcome the conference declaration and continue to seek good relations with non-aligned states.


Issue 10 (June 1955) of the Bandung Conference Bulletin cleans up loose ends and adds additional documents, primarily closing speeches but also including material on Indonesian foreign relations.

Contents:

  • Closing Speech by the President of the Conference
  • Closing Speeches by Heads of Delegation [Sardar M. Naim/Afghanistan; U Nu/Burma; Chou En-lai/China; Gamal Abdel Nasser/Egypt; Jawaharlal Nehru/India; Sunario/Indonesia; Jalal Abdoh/Iran; Mohammad Fadhil Jamali/Iraq; Tatsunosuke Takasaki/Japan; Katay D. Sasorith/Laos; Sami Solh/Lebanon; Momolu Dukuly/Liberia; Mohammed Ali/Pakistan; Carlos P. Romulo/Philippines; Sayed Ismail El Azhari/Sudan; Khaled El Azm/Syia; Fatin Rustu Zorlu/Turkey; Pham Van Dong/North Vietnam; Nguyen Van Thoai/South Vietnam]
  • Joint Statement by the Premiers of Indonesia and China
  • The State Visits of The Acting President of Egypt, Lt. Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser & Premier Chou En-lai of the People’s Republic of China
  • Treaty of Friendship between Indonesia and Afghanistan
  • World Press Opinion

Canadian PM Louis St. Laurent gives President Sukarno a tour of the parliament buildings, Ottawa, 1956. Image: Library and Archives Canada

Canadian diplomatic report on the conference

American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles famously denounced non-alignment as “immoral.” US neighbour and ally Canada offered a more sympathetic view. According to the Canadian Department of External Affairs, Canada was the only Western country to send a direct message to the conference. That message, Ali Sastroamidjojo’s reply, and Canadian commentary appear in this diplomatic circular signed by Canadian foreign minister Lester B. Pearson.

Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs circular document to posts abroad, 27 July 1955

 After Bandung: an early look back at a foundational conference 

President Sukarno remembered Bandung on several occasions and played a major role in establishing it as a pivotal event in the international diplomatic memory. For instance, he used Bandung to promote his concept of the “new emerging forces” fighting against colonialism in all its manifestations in a speech opening the Asian-African Journalists’ Conference in Bandung, 24 April 1963.

Extracts from Sukarno speech 1963

For more on the Bandung conference:

Twitter thread summarizing content of Bandung Bulletin

Wilson Center digital archive on Bandung: Materials on the Bandung conference are not as rare as they once were. Some archives allow access to their collections and others are putting these materials online. A leader in this is the Wilson Center Digital Archive, which has translated key documents from several archives globally and posted them in English.

Wilson Center Bandung conference documents collection

Wilson Center documents relating to the proposed 1965 second African-Asian conference, which was cancelled after a coup in host nation Algeria.

Recent books and scholarly web sites
Bibliography of the 1955 Bandung conference with links to books on worldcat
Kahin, George McTurnan. The Asian-African Conference, Bandung, Indonesia, April 1955. Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1956. Google books link. Full-text available offline on request.
 Phạm, Quỳnh N. and Robbie Shilliam, eds. Meanings of Bandung: Postcolonial Orders and Decolonial Visions. Google books link.
Stevens, Georgiana G. “Arab Neutralism and Bandung.” Middle East Journal. 11.2 (Spring, 1957): p. 139-152
Subotic, Jelena and Srdjan Vucetic. “Performing solidarity: whiteness and status-seeking in the non-aligned world.” Journal of International Relations and Development volume 22 (2019): 722–743
Tan, See Seng and Amitav Acharya, eds. Bandung Revisited: The Legacy of the 1955 Asian-African Conference for International Order. Singapore: NUS Press, 2008.
Tarling, Nicholas. “‘Ah-Ah’: Britain and the Bandung Conference of 1955.” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. 23.1 (Mar., 1992): p. 74-111.
Vitalis, Robert. The Midnight Ride of Kwame Nkrumah and Other Fables of Bandung (Ban-doong). 2009 presentation
Wright, Richard. The Color Curtain: A report on the Bandung conference. Originally published 1950s, reprinted 1995. Google books link.
Abou-El-Fadl, Reem. “Neutralism Made Positive: Egyptian Anti-Colonialism On The Road To Bandung.” British Journal Of Middle Eastern Studies 42.2 (2015): 219-240. Academic Search Complete. Web.
Acharya, Amitav. “Norm Subsidiarity And Regional Orders: Sovereignty, Regionalism, And Rule-Making In The Third World.”International Studies Quarterly 55.1 (2011): 95-123. Academic Search Complete. Web.
Lumumba-Kasongo, Tukumbi. “Africa-Asia Relations Since The End Of “Unipolar” Globalization: Focus On Education And Research.” African & Asian Studies 12.1/2 (2013): 118-139. Academic Search Complete. Web.
McKercher, Asa. “The Centre Cannot Hold: Canada, Colonialism And The ‘Afro-Asian Bloc’ At The United Nations, 1960–62.”Journal Of Imperial & Commonwealth History 42.2 (2014): 329-349. Academic Search Complete. Web.
PANG YANG, HUEI. “The Four Faces Of Bandung: Detainees, Soldiers, Revolutionaries And Statesmen.” Journal Of Contemporary Asia 39.1 (2009): 63-86. Academic Search Complete. Web.
SHIMAZU, NAOKO. “Diplomacy As Theatre: Staging The Bandung Conference Of 1955.” Modern Asian Studies 48.1 (2014): 225-252. Academic Search Complete. Web.
Slobodian, Quinn. “Bandung In Divided Germany: Managing Non-Aligned Politics In East And West, 1955–63.” Journal Of Imperial & Commonwealth History 41.4 (2013): 644-662. Academic Search Complete. Web.
Wood, Sally Percival. “‘CHOU GAGS CRITICS IN BANDOENG’ or How the Media Framed Premier Zhou Enlai at the Bandung Conference, 1955”. Modern Asian Studies 44.5 (Sept. 2010): 1001-1027. JSTOR. Web.

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