Bandung, unity in diversity

Seventy-eight years ago, in February 1945, at Yalta, Crimea, leaders of the Grand Alliance– Josef Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt– were re-configuring the world. They had defeated Adolf Hitler, were in the process of shredding Germany while installing an international court to put war criminals on trial. Churchill was talking Stalin into entering the Pacific Theater of WWII against Japan, so the latter imposed certain conditions. He demanded a “sphere of influence” in Manchuria (then occupied by Japan) as well as in Eastern and Central Europe. Stalin asked for postwar economic assistance as well and membership for 16 Soviet republics to the United Nations (UN) which was then on the drawing board. In the end, Stalin settled for three seats in the UN General Assembly– Ukraine, Belorussia and the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) as a whole. Pundits say that after the Yalta arrangements two contending political and economic systems fought for world dominance and that ignited the Cold War which ended in 1991 when the USSR imploded.

Southeast Asia lived through “interesting times” during the Cold War. Many ex-colonies became independent after WWII but their colonizers were still around trying to regain lost ground. France was holding on to Vietnam, Great Britain to India and the Netherlands to Indonesia. The USA restored Philippine Independence after imposing unequal treaties and military agreements. In the re-configured post-WWII universe, two economic systems held sway, the capitalist and the communist, and two political systems, democracy and autocracy. The newly-independent ex-colonies had to choose one, never the other, or there would be hell to pay.

Be that as it may, there was an audacious attempt at regional cooperation. Five Asian prime ministers met in Colombo and Kandy in 1954 and decided to convene the Asian-African Conference in Bandung, Indonesia in April 1955. Twenty-nine countries sent representatives of ministerial level, to wit: : 1)Afghanistan, 2) Burma, 3) Cambodia, 4)Ceylon, 5) China, 6) Egypt, 7)Ethiopia, 8)Gold Coast, 9) India, 10) Indonesia , 11) Iran, 12) Iraq, 13) Japan, 14) Jordan, 15) Laos, 16) Lebanon, !7) Liberia, 18) Libya, 19) Nepal, 20) Pakistan, 21) Philippines, 22) Saudi Arabia, 23) Sudan, 24) Syria, 25) Thailand, 26) Turkey. 27) Democratic Republic of Viet-name, 28) State of Vietnam and 29) Yemen. Take note that through the years, the USA intervened in many of these sovereign states to bring about “regime change” due to the exigencies of the Cold War.

Listen to the distant voices from Bandung:

Afghanistan: The age of colonialism left its mark on the economic and industrial development of both regions. As a general rule, the occupying powers exploited raw materials to expand their industries centralized in the mother-country and make enormous profits from the sale of their products in the colonies. Their military superiority guaranteed the continuity of their domination. There are obstacles for countries that produce raw materials to promote commercial relations and trade among themselves.

Cambodia: This conference shatters the frontiers which separate two worlds, the communist and noncommunist. This appears to be an Afro-Asian offspring of the United Nations Assembly. Regretfully, the UN has not opened its doors to some nations that have already fulfilled conditions of sovereignty required for membership.

Syria: This assembly stands on its own feet. It does not draw new maps for homelands or peoples. We come to bury the evils of colonialism and to maintain peace and security based on justice and human dignity.

Turkey: This delegation is fully convinced that colonialism and racism are remnants of old imperialists who are on the way out and shall be made to vanish from the face of the earth.

Democratic Republic of Vietnam: After WWII, awakening of Asian African peoples is a historical and momentous event, In the process of a protracted struggle, we have recovered our national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Libya: Colonialism, racial discrimination and external ideological interference are dangerous for the world as a whole. No country should interfere in the internal affairs of another and force her whether openly or secretly to follow a different way of life or system of government.

Syria: How can the world hope to achieve peace with this wild race of armaments? Certain powers are engaged in the dangerous industry of death.

The Cold War avowed objective was to stop the spread of the communist system in the world. As a counter blow to Bandung, the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, also known as the Manila Pact, was signed in September 1954; it created the SEATO, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. Manila was the perfect cradle because Pres. Ramon Magsaysay had squashed the HUK rebellion which was considered communist.

Unlike the Asian-African Conference which was an endemic specie, the SEATO was imported stuff. It was the brainchild of US President Dwight Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles (Republican) the Secretary of State. Moreover, only two of its members were found in Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Thailand. The other members were the USA, France, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, and Pakistan which is in South Asia. SEATO’S first Secretary-General was Pote Sarasin who was the Thai ambassador to the USA and later a Prime Minister.

SEATO turned out to be a “paper tiger”.