In a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue held in June, Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto articulated his country’s stand on regional security and spoke of an approach he called the “Asian way,” something he believes was shaped after decades of movements against imperialism and colonialism in Asia.
“Indonesia opted to be non-aligned,” Prabowo said. “This is a conscious decision because for us to respect the interests of all our neighbors and of all the big powers in this region is essential… We are convinced that the leaders of China will stand up to their responsibility with wisdom and benevolence because it is their philosophical teaching.”
Prabowo’s remarks reminded many of a far-reaching conference held 67 years ago in Bandung, Indonesia, the spirit of which had laid the foundation for the non-aligned movement.
His speech also came at a time when external participation in Asian security has been growing, a development many observers say will only inflame tensions.
In an article published by the Star, a Malaysian news website, Kun Liu, a political commentator, described Prabowo’s words as a “tacit rejection of the traditional Western way of forging alliances” and called on Asian states not to join “the game of hegemonism and alliance-making,” though she lamented the loss of the Bandung Spirit “in the tense rhetoric of great power conflicts of our time.”
The Bandung Spirit of unity, friendship and cooperation, affirmed after the conference outlined the Ten Principles on handling state-to-state relations and the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, is still very relevant today in managing international relations, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said a day after Prabowo’s speech.
Today, the human race is facing many challenges both security- and development-wise, Wang said, adding that all countries need to cooperate and support each other, rather than building walls and fanning division and confrontation.
Attended by 29 countries in Asia and Africa, most of which had emerged from colonial rule, the Bandung Conference featured themes including calls for political self-determination, mutual respect for sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, and equality.
The ten principles put forth by the conference “played a historic role in charting the right course for international relations, advancing Asia-Africa and South-South cooperation, and promoting North-South cooperation,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a speech at the Conference’s 60th anniversary in 2015. “The Bandung Conference, indeed, stands as a major milestone for the solidarity and cooperation between Asian and African peoples.”
While decades have passed, the Bandung Spirit is still highly relevant, and many initiatives proposed by leaders around the world have struck a chord with it. The China-proposed Global Security Initiative, for example, stresses precisely the idea of peaceful cooperation that transcends the hegemonic logic as well as the zero-sum Western tradition, some observers say.
It is all the more important as global challenges spawned by the conflict in Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic and food and energy shortages have all helped usher in an environment rife with risk and uncertainties, while in the meantime, bloc rivalries fueled by some Western countries have ratcheted up geopolitical tensions, further undermining the harmony of an international community that is in dire need of mutual support and cooperation.
“The hardships and challenges are yet another reminder that humanity is a community with a shared future where all people rise and fall together, and that all countries need to follow the trend of the times featuring peace, development and win-win cooperation, move in the direction of building a community with a shared future for mankind, and rise to challenges and build a bright future through cooperation,” Xi said in a speech in April.
The Bandung Spirit, which was agreed upon in Indonesia, has been carried forward by China. The trial run of the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway, a project built with Chinese technology in Indonesia, on Wednesday marked not only the deepening friendship between the two countries but also spoken to the positive results brought about by win-win cooperation, a key part of Xi’s concept of a community with a shared future for mankind.
For its part, China has played the role of spearheading its cooperative spirit, non-interference policy and independent foreign policy, launching initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative to strengthen global cooperation and joining efforts such as arms control to uphold its commitment to peace. With all its cooperation-seeking proposals and endeavors, it is now pushing for a revival of the Bandung Spirit.