The first Asian-African conference was organised fifty years ago at Bandung, Indonesia, from April 18 to 24, 1955. The conference was sponsored by Burma (now Myanmar), Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), India, Indonesia and Pakistan. It was attended by 18 other countries from Asia (Afghanistan, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Laos, Lebanon, Nepal, Peoples Republic of China, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Vietnam, Syria, Thailand, Turkey and Yemen) and 6 countries from Africa ( Egypt, Ethiopia, Gold Coast [now Ghana], Liberia, Libya and Sudan). The holding of the Conference was necessitated by various post-war issues and events that were confronting the newly decolonized and liberated nations of Asia and Africa.
Although World War II ended in August 1945, it did not ensure peace and security in the world since hostility between two groups of nations one led by the United States and the other by the Soviet Union continued in different ways. Moreover, several regions of Asia and Africa were still colonised by Western countries. Attempts to quell anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles led to open wars in the Malayan Peninsula, Korean Peninsula , Indochina, Palestine, and in many parts of Africa .
Role of Nehru
One of those who were in the forefront of the struggle against colonial oppression was India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru was not only the architect of India’s non-aligned foreign policy but also played a major role in espousing the cause of the third-world countries. In the prevailing turbulent state of global affairs, charting a non-aligned foreign policy posed a big challenge and it was only due to the wisdom and skill of Nehru that he succeeded in doing so.
The principles guiding the foreign policy of India ‘s Interim Government that was formed just prior to gaining independence was enunciated by Nehru on September 7, 1946. In a radio address, Nehru, who then headed the Interim Government, stated that India would not join groups of states that were aligned against each other but would strive to establish friendly relations with all countries. Nehru had already conceived of a closer association of the Asian countries for evolving a common foreign policy. During his visit to South-East Asian countries in March 1946, Nehru not only secured the support for his idea but also got the needed consent from leaders of Burma, Indonesia and so on for holding a conference for that purpose.
The Asian Relations Conference was held in Delhi at a non-governmental level under the auspices of the Indian Council of World Affairs from March 23 to April 2, 1947. It was attended by delegations from 28 countries including some of the Asian republics of the then Soviet Union. Observers came from the United Nations, the Arab League, and from institutes of international relations of Australia, Britain, USA and USSR. The conference helped strengthen the solidarity of Asian nations and was a predecessor of the Bandung Conference. However, when independence came on August 15, 1947, urgent problems caused by the partition of the country such as ending communal clashes, the resettlement of refugees, etc., pushed everything else into the background. Later, developments in Kashmir compounded these problems.
Conference on Indonesia
The independent character of the Indian foreign policy was first demonstrated with the convening in Delhi from January 20 to 23, 1949 of the International Conference on Indonesia . Holland’s attempt at restoring colonial rule in Indonesia by armed force on the night of December 19, 1948 sent alarming signals across the newly decolonised countries about the possible threats of re-colonisation. Jogjakarta, the Indonesian capital was seized by Dutch paratroopers and President Sukarno, Prime Minister Mohammed Hatta, and other members of the Indonesian Government were arrested and interned on an isolated island. Nehru, who sharply denounced Holland’s action, which he described as naked and brazen aggression, decided to close all Indian seaports and airports to Dutch vessels and aircraft. Then responding to the Burmese Prime Minister U Nu’s proposal of holding a conference of Asian states in defence of Indonesia, Nehru decided to organize an International Conference. It was attended by 19 countries including Australia and New Zealand.
Ruling circles in the United States and Britain, who tacitly supported the Dutch aggression, were displeased at the holding of the conference and, therefore, exerted pressure to influence the outcome of the conference. Yet, the Conference condemned the Dutch aggression and demanded the immediate release of the arrested members of the Indonesian Government, withdrawal of Dutch troops from Jogjakarta and transfer of power to the United States of Indonesia by January 1, 1950. Consequently, hostilities ended on May 7, 1949 and an agreement was signed to hold further negotiations at a round table conference under the auspices of the United Nations
Nehru Refuses to Buckle
Another development that had important bearing on shaping India ‘s foreign policy was Nehru’s visit to the United States in October 1949. The U.S. Administration had timed the trip in such a way that it coincided with the ascendance of the Communist Party to power in China. During the visit, considerable pressure was exerted by the United States on Nehru to draw India into the anti-communist camp. However, Nehru spurned all such insidious attempts by summarily rejecting the U.S. proposal of setting up military bases in India in return for the economic aid that Nehru had gone there to seek. Failure to obtain U.S. economic aid without political strings and because of the general foreign policy of the United States of suppressing national liberation movements in Asia, relations between India and the United States began to sour.
Concurrently, relations with the new regime in China presented an important foreign policy problem that India had to tackle and it did so by recognising the Peoples Republic of China on December 30, 1949. India also supported the demand for granting China its rightful place in the UN Security Council instead of the Chiang Kai-shek regime of Taiwan , which was being backed by the United States. Although the “Tibetan Question” briefly cast a shadow over Indo-China relations in 1950, relations between the two began to improve after the signing on January 1, 1951 of the barter agreement on supplying India, which was suffering from food shortage at that time, with Chinese rice in exchange for Indian jute.
Korean War and After
The evolution of India’s foreign policy was also influenced by the developments during the Korean War, which started on June 25, 1950. While India initially supported the UN Security Council resolution that enabled the U.S. to intervene in the Korean War under the flag of the United Nations, India refused to give any military support and only sent a medical team on a humanitarian mission. India made it clear that its aim was to localise the conflict and to help find a speedy solution to the Korean problem. On September 30, 1950 , Nehru cautioned the “UN forces” that was approaching the 38th Parallel not to cross it especially since China had forewarned that in such an eventuality it would be forced to intervene on the side of North Korea in the war. However, the U.S. disregarded Nehru’s advice and in early October 1950, the U.S. invaded North Korea, thereby, forcing China to enter the war. Subsequently, India voted against a UN resolution dated January 30, 1951 that tried to declare the Peoples Republic of China an aggressor in the Korean War. Eventually, India went on to play a significant role in ending the Korean War on July 27, 1953 and also headed the neutral-nations commission for repatriation of prisoners of war.
Meanwhile, India had refused to attend the San Francisco Conference convened by the United States in September 1951 to sign the peace treaty with Japan , because of the U.S. position that the provisions of the treaty were non-negotiable. The Soviet Union and those allied with it also refused to become parties to the said treaty mainly on two counts: (1) that there was no clause in the treaty opposing the revival of militarism in Japan; and (2) that the treaty permitted the stationing of U.S. troops on Japanese territory. Later, India signed a separate peace treaty with Japan on June 9, 1952 to formally end hostilities, while keeping the controversial issues in abeyance.
Forced to stop its hostilities in Korea in July 1953, the U.S. did everything to prevent France’s defeat in the colonial war in Indo-China that had been going on for more than seven years. The U.S. readily shouldered more than 76 percent of the expenses of the war and also contemplated use of atomic weapons. Instead of remaining a passive onlooker, Nehru issued an appeal on February 22, 1954 for an immediate ceasefire, which contributed to the convening of the Geneva Conference of all interested parties to discuss a peaceful settlement of the Korean and Indo-China issues. Moreover, on April 26, 1954, just two days before the scheduled conference was to open in Geneva, Nehru put forward a six-point programme for the establishment of peace in Indo-China. It envisaged an immediate ceasefire; an undertaking by France to grant the countries of Indo-China independence; a guarantee by the big powers not to interfere in the affairs of these countries; etc. Thus, India stepped in to make a notable contribution in bringing about ceasefire in the Indo-China war on July 21, 1954, although India was present only in an unofficial capacity at the Geneva talks. India later chaired the three-member international commission the other two being Canada and Poland that was set-up to monitor the ceasefire.
The stepping up of U.S. imperialist policy in Asia on the whole and the U.S. decision to provide military aid to Pakistan in particular, were other important factors that influenced the shaping of India’s foreign policy towards positive neutrality. At the end of December 1953, referring to the proposed U.S. military aid to Pakistan in return for setting up U.S. military bases there, Nehru not only sharply criticised the proposal but also categorically stated that “India would not allow foreign troops on her soil under any circumstances and any pretext.” (‘The Hindu’, Madras, 02 January 1954)
No to US Meddling
Subsequently, on February 24, 1954, when U.S. President Eisenhower in a letter formally informed Nehru of the decision of the U.S. to grant military aid to Pakistan, Eisenhower also expressed his desire to provide military aid to India. However, Nehru, in a speech in the Indian Parliament on March 1, 1954, firmly rejected the U.S. offer and instead demanded the removal of the U.S. military observers from the U.N. team stationed in Kashmir. According to Nehru, “These American observers can no longer be treated by us as neutrals in this dispute and hence their presence there appears to us to be improper.” (Parliamentary Debates, Lok Sabha, 1954, Vol. I, No.12, Part II, Col. 971) Nehru no doubt was well aware of the mischief that the U.S. undercover agents were perpetrating in Kashmir.
On April 2, 1954, Nehru also became the first head of government to give a clarion call for an immediate stand-still agreement on nuclear weapon testing. His call was in response to the growing menace of radioactive fallout from such tests, which was exemplified by the 15-megaton atmospheric test conducted by the U.S. on 01 March 1954 at Bikini Atoll.
Other leaders of the newly independent Asian countries too felt the need for joint action to tackle the numerous concerns of the region. In order to discuss them the then Prime Minister of Ceylon, John Kotelawala, took the initiative in holding an informal meeting at Colombo from April 29, to May 2, 1954 to which Prime Ministers of Burma (U Nu), India (Jawaharlal Nehru), Indonesia ( Ali Sastroamidjojo), and Pakistan (Mohammed Ali) were invited. It was here that the decision was taken to support the Indonesian Prime Minister’s proposal to hold a conference of Asian and African countries
Another important development took place in June 1954, during a recess in the Geneva Conference, when the Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai accepted the invitation to visit India. The invitation had been extended to him by V.K. Krishna Menon, India’s representative at the Conference. The ensuing talks between Chou En-Lai and Nehru ended on June 28, 1954 in the signing of a joint statement on the principles on which relations between India and China were to be based. These principles, which were subsequently known as the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-Existence or Panch Sheel, were: (1) mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; (2) non-aggression; (3) non-interference in each other’s internal affairs; (4) equality and mutual benefit; and (5) peaceful coexistence.
While other countries were more concerned about working out truce in Indo-China, the U.S. was busy making preparations to convene a conference of South East Asian countries at Manila to found a new military alliance to which members of the “Colombo Powers” were also invited. India firmly rejected the offer. Indonesia, Burma and Ceylon followed suit. Finally, only three Asian nations Pakistan, Philippines and Thailand joined United States, Britain, France , Australia and New Zealand at the Manila Conference to found the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) on 08 September 1954.
As the Colombo Conference in May 1954 had already taken a decision to hold a conference of Asian and African countries, Nehru wasted no time in confronting the aggressive stance of the United States by inviting the Indonesian Prime Minister to Delhi to discuss preparations for the proposed conference. In a joint statement issued on September 25, 1954, Nehru and Sastroamidjojo emphasized that the purpose of the Asian-African conference unlike the one that was held at Manila was to promote unity and peace. A decision was also made by them to hold a meeting of the sponsoring countries to workout the programme.
The preparatory meeting for the Bandung Conference took place in late December 1954 at Bogor, Indonesia. Nehru’s suggestions to invite about 30 countries to attend the conference, to exclude controversial issues, and to place on the agenda broad issues along the lines of the five principles of peaceful coexistence that India and China had chalked out seven months earlier, were more or less accepted. However, there was considerable difference between India and Pakistan on the objects and purpose of the conference since Pakistan had already been sucked into the aggressive military alliance of SEATO. Anyway, the Bogor meeting decided to hold the Asian-African conference at the end of April 1955 at Bandung.
Accord with USSR
All the while, Nehru was peeved at the way Western nations were cagey about providing economic and technical help for India’s development. Repeated requests for aid from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD or popularly known as World Bank) had not yielded any palpable results. Therefore, the Indian Government was compelled to consider the Soviet proposal made in September 1954 to help with the construction of a steel production plant. The talks in Delhi with Soviet representatives which began in November 1954 led to the signing of an agreement on February 2, 1955. This agreement was a far cry from the unfavourable agreement concluded with private West German companies – Krupp and Demag – in 1953. While the West German companies charged exorbitant annual interest rate of 12 percent, the Soviets charged a mere 2.5 percent, which was to be paid with Indian exports. Moreover, while the private companies sought a share of the profits, the Soviet Union made no such claim. There were several such glaring differences between the two agreements. The Indo-Soviet agreement of 02 February 1955 marked the beginning of extensive and fruitful economic co-operation between India and the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile the situation became worse in the Far East , in Formosa Strait, after the U.S. signed a Mutual Defence Treaty with the Chiang Kai-shek regime of Taiwan at the start of December 1954. Concurrently, a new military alliance was also set up in West Asia when Britain, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Turkey signed the Baghdad Pact in late February 1955. U.S. military aid to Pakistan, the emergence of aggressive military alliances such as SEATO and the Baghdad Pact, which were giving India , in Krishna Menon’s phrase, “a sense of encirclement” and other actions by the imperialists led to the evolution of India’s neutralist foreign policy to positive neutrality.
Positive neutrality consisted in non-participation in military blocs combined with active moves against the conclusion of imperialist military alliances, and in championing general disarmament and abolition of colonialism. Also mediation in the settlement of international disputes for the purpose of easing international tensions; anti-colonialism manifesting itself in active support of all peoples fighting for independence and, once that has been gained, for complete elimination of the colonial aftermath; anti-racialism expressed in the demand for complete equality of races and the banning of discrimination of any people. India’s change to positive neutrality manifested itself, above all, in a more active struggle for preserving and strengthening peace.
India made energetic diplomatic preparations for making the Bandung Conference a success by seeking among other things the support of other countries for the principles of peaceful coexistence. At the invitation of Prime Minister Nasser, Nehru visited Egypt on 15-16 February 1955. Later, a Treaty of Friendship between India and Egypt was signed at Cairo. Similar treaties were also signed with Cambodia and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
At the same time, the imperialist powers made desperate attempts to disrupt the Bandung conference. Initially an attempt was made to dissuade about ten pro-Western governments from attending the conference. However, the move was aborted after it became clear that the conference would anyway take place with about half the world’s population represented. So the emphasis shifted to using the pro-Western participants to influence the outcome of the conference by resisting or modifying proposals that appeared to be anti-West. Nonetheless, to prevent the Chinese from attending the conference, Chiang Kai-shek’s agents, at the behest of their U.S. mentor – the CIA, engineered an act of terrorism.
On 11 April 1955, The Kashmir Princess, an Air India plane chartered by the Peoples’ Republic of China to transport a group of the Chinese delegation from Hong Kong to Bandung was blown up in mid-air over the South China Sea killing all but three of the 19 member delegation and crew. The terrorists had presumed that the plane would be carrying the Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai, whose travel plans had been kept a secret. (For more details see: Col. A.K. Mitra, Disaster in the Air: The Crash of the Kashmir Princess, 1955, Reliance Publishing House, New Delhi , 2001. Col. A.K. Mitra was the then Military Attaché at the Indian Embassy in Jakarta and also India’s representative in the Inquiry Commission that was set up to investigate the cause of the disaster.) These incidents point to the importance the Western Powers had attached to the outcome of the Bandung Conference. The interest in the Conference was also evident from the fact that there were 655 correspondents present who sent daily reports on its progress.
Altogether about 340 delegates representing a population of 1440 million (almost two-thirds of the world’s then population) attended the Conference. The agenda, framed in accordance with the Bogor communiqué, contained the following four basic aims of the Conference, namely: to enhance goodwill and cooperation between Asian-African nations; to discuss social, economic, and cultural matters between them; to discuss matters of national sovereignty, racialism, and colonialism; and to promote peace and cooperation in the world.
While the Bandung Conference appeared to provide an opportunity to build solidarity of Asian and African countries, in reality that did not happen due to the acute struggle between the non-aligned countries and those countries that were under the tutelage and stranglehold of the imperialist powers. Therefore, as for the rules of procedure, it was decided that resolutions would be approved only by unanimous vote so that any one delegation could veto draft decisions. This stipulation also led to imprecise formulation of some important points in the Final Communiqué.
Although the wording of the Final Communiqué was rather vague overall, the section on “Promotion of World Peace and Co-operation” was more precise and it stated as follows:
The Conference considered that disarmament and the prohibition of the production, experimentation and use of nuclear and thermo-nuclear weapons of war imperative to save [hu]mankind and civilization from the fear and prospect of wholesale destruction. It considered that the nations of Asia and Africa assembled here have a duty towards humanity and civilization to proclaim their support for disarmament and for the prohibition of these weapons and to appeal to nations principally concerned and to world opinion, to bring about such disarmament and prohibition. The Conference declared universal disarmament is an absolute necessity for the preservation of peace and requested the United Nations to continue its efforts and appealed to all concerned speedily to bring about the regulation, limitation, control and reduction of all armed forces and armaments, including the prohibition of the production,
experimentation and use of all weapons of mass destruction, and to establish effective international control to this end.
The Final Communiqué also implored the participating nations to remain free from mistrust and fear, to show goodwill towards each other, to practice tolerance, to live together in peace with one another as good neighbors and to develop friendly cooperation on the basis of the following ten principles:
1. Respect for fundamental human rights and for the purposes and principles of the charter of the United Nations
2. Respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations
3. Recognition of the equality of all races and of the equality of all nations large and small
4. Abstention from intervention or interference in the internal affairs of another country
5. Respect for the right of each nation to defend itself singly or collectively, in conformity with the charter of the United Nations
6. (a) Abstention from the use of arrangements of collective defence to serve any particular interests of the big powers
(b) Abstention by any country from exerting pressures on other countries
7. Refraining from acts or threats of aggression or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any country
8. 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
9. Promotion of mutual interests and cooperation
10. Respect for justice and international obligations.
Betrayal of Bandung
Enduring unity and co-operation among the Asian and African nations based on the above objects and principles would have gravely affected the interests of the imperialist powers. Therefore, they did everything they could to disrupt the possibility of any such unity and co-operation. Through sustained intrigues they ensured that the friendship and good-neighbourliness that was built up especially between India and China until 1955 was suddenly turned to suspicion and bitterness in the latter half of the 1950s. This unpleasant development was no doubt a big set-back for the concerns of the peoples of Asia. Thus, apart from giving the needed stimulus to the struggle to end colonialism, the purpose for which the Conference was organised remained largely unfulfilled.
The failure of the Bandung Conference to launch a permanent Asian-African countries organisation was a sign that it was the writ of the imperialist powers that ultimately prevailed, although Nehru did make a valiant attempt later to revive it in the form of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 1961.
N.D. Jayaprakash is a member of the Delhi Science Forum and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org