Shoulder to shoulder and step by step, a dedicated team of Asian and African leaders literally followed the trail of their iconic predecessors on Friday with a highly symbolic stroll in this Indonesian city of legacy.
With the “historic walk” from Savoy Homann Hotel to Gedung Merdeka, or the Independence Building, the constellation sent out a clear message: They also see eye to eye and agree heart to heart on carrying forward the time-honored Bandung Spirit and further boosting Asia-Africa cooperation.
Sixty years after the landmark 1955 Bandung Conference, the two continents and the entire world have grown into “a closely intertwined community of common destiny,” Chinese President Xi Jinping, who took part in the commemorative event, pointed out in a speech Wednesday at an Asia-Africa summit in Jakarta.
Under the new circumstances, the Bandung Spirit of solidarity, friendship and cooperation remains relevant and potent, Xi said, suggesting that the two vibrant continents continue their time-tested partnership in order to build a more equitable and reasonable international order for the benefit of their own people and those well beyond.
FROM PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE TO COMMON DESTINY
“The Chinese Delegation has come here to seek unity and not to quarrel, … to seek common ground and not to create divergences,” then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai said at the Bandung Conference, the first large-scale Asia-Africa conference.
The emphatic remarks by the charismatic Chinese leader gave away the enormous ideological, historical and other differences between the more than two dozen participating nations.
Yet the straightforward statement also embodied the pragmatism of the Chinese mission, which worked flexibly with its counterparts to unite those disparate nations around their largest common denominator — their aspiration for national independence and peaceful coexistence.
Upholding the Bandung Spirit, those mostly newly independent countries, a major part of what was later known as the Third World, choose a third path besides the Soviet and U.S. orbits and converged to become a political force to be reckoned with on the world stage.
Sixty years later, the international landscape has undergone profound changes, yet the Bandung Principles remain the cornerstone of international relations, and the Asia-Africa bond has never weakened, said Li Renliang, a professor at Thailand’s National Institute of Development Administration.
Indeed, in the increasingly globalized modern world, the interests of the two and also all other continents have become inseparably intertwined and their futures closely interlinked in a community of common destiny for all mankind that is coming into shape.
Take China as an example. The Asian giant is now Africa’s largest trading partner, and has contributed one fifth of the continent’s economic growth, according to the International Monetary Fund.
For the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China is not only its largest trading partner but also the largest importer of its products, and the two sides are looking to upgrade their free trade deal this year.
In the new era, the Chinese president proposed in his Wednesday speech, Asian and African nations should continue to be good friends, good partners and good brothers that always stands together in weal and woe and in thick and thin.
COMMON PURSUIT OF DEVELOPMENT
Setting off from the heart of Zambia’s copper belt in Kapiri Mposhi, locomotives rumbled east along a 1,860-km railway to the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
It is through this transnational railway, popularly known as the TAZARA and distinguished as one of China’s biggest aid projects in the 1970s, that landlocked Zambia finds its way out to the Indian Ocean.
The rail link serves as a typical case of China’s decades-long support for Africa’s development, and a telling example of the increasingly strong economic dimension of the ever closer cooperation between the two dynamic continents.
With the days of global colonialism and the Cold War long gone, the focus of Asia-Africa cooperation has shifted from political aspirations to economic ambitions, but the Bandung Spirit remains relevant.
As disparity between the rich and the poor remains gaping, noted Professor Yang Baoyun, a well-known scholar with Thammasat University of Thailand, it is important for Asian and African countries to reinvigorate the Bandung Spirit and unite in their new common struggle, this time for economic prosperity.
The two continents have already become robust powerhouses for global growth, and their combined economic output reached 29 trillion U.S. dollars last year, accounting for 37.5 percent of the world’s total and equaling 47 times the 1970 volume.
Given that they make up nearly half of the world’s landmass and 70 percent of the population and their economies are highly complementary, their cooperation has enormous potential yet to be explored.
However, the way forward is fraught with pitfalls and hurdles. While some are faced with the so-called middle-income trap, some others are still exploring their own development paths.
Asian and African countries, Xi suggested, need to boost win-win cooperation and create the “one plus one greater than two” effect, by aligning their development strategies and translating their economic complementarity into a driving force for common growth.
In addition, the Chinese president called for closer South-South and South-North cooperation, and urged the developed countries to honor their aid pledges for their developing peers and offer more assistance with no political strings attached.
Xi’s Wednesday speech, particularly his proposal, opened up a new chapter in Asia-Africa interaction, as the content and prospect of the cross-continental cooperation has become ever richer and brighter, said Tang Zhimin, director of China-ASEAN Studies under the Bangkok-based Panyapiwat Institute of Management.
STAUNCH CHAMPION OF ASIA-AFRICA COOPERATION
China has for long played a constructive and exemplary role in Asia-Africa cooperation, bringing out new visions and practical initiatives for the two continents to prosper side by side.
“China is an active champion and driver of Asia-Africa unity and cooperation. … Under the new circumstances, China will continue to unswervingly promote Asia-Africa cooperation,” Xi told the leaders and dignitaries from about 100 nations at the Jakarta summit.
During his visits to Kazakhstan and Indonesia in 2013, Xi put forward the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiatives, in a bid to rejuvenate win-win cooperation among nations along the ancient trade routes.
Thanks to the two comprehensive projects, Silk Road countries will be able to take a ride on the express train of China’s economic growth, said Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, executive director of Sri Lanka’s Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies.
The Belt and Road initiatives, echoed former Pakistani Foreign Secretary Akram Zakisaid, are aimed not just at a revival of the historical Silk Road, but also at achieving co-prosperity in a peaceful way.
Meanwhile, the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), dedicated to improving regional infrastructure, is expected to start operation by the end of this year.
The enthusiasm that prompted 57 countries, including many from outside Asia, to join the AIIB as founding members is an eloquent testament to the all-win nature of the initiative.
China, Xi reaffirmed in Jakarta, stands ready to work with interested nations to realize the Belt and Road vision, build the AIIB into a high-quality and all-win institution and achieve common development and prosperity.
Also at the summit, Xi announced that China will, among other programs, provide 100,000 training opportunities for Asian and African developing nations in the coming five years and set up a China-Asia-Africa cooperation center.
Samuel Stevquoah, chief of staff at the office of Liberia’s vice president, said he highly appreciates China’s provision of training opportunities for developing countries.
“This is very important for us. We always look for opportunities to build the youth’s capacity and make them stronger,” he said.