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Asian African Conference Sets Lofty Goals

  • Brian Padden

Indonesian President Joko Widodo delivers his closing statement at the Asian African Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 23, 2015.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo delivers his closing statement at the Asian African Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 23, 2015.

The Asian African Conference in Indonesia concluded Thursday with resolutions calling for independence for the Palestinian territories and a new order aimed at increasing the economic and political power of emerging nations. However, there seemed to be little in the way of concrete deals or agreements.

At the conclusion of the conference, Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced the agreed-upon declarations that he says will give the developing world or what he calls the “South, South nations,” more power and influence in the world.

He says thus our voice and our decision cannot be ignored by anyone. And in this conference we agree to reinvigorate the sprit of Bandung, the main struggle of South South, which is prosperity, solidarity and stability.

The Indonesian organizers wanted the Asian African Conference to establish a new coalition of developing countries based on the 1955 Bandung Conference. That gathering brought together 30 leaders from developing countries to oppose colonialism and the dominance of the Cold War super powers.

This time, 21 heads of state participated and over 100 countries from Asia, Africa and the Middle East sent delegations to the conference in Jakarta.

The delegates cited economic inequality and global terrorism as the greatest problems they face today. The conference-ending declaration calls for increasing direct trade and investment between developing nations to address the global economic imbalance.

China’s efforts stand out among the group, as Beijing pledged to reduce tariffs and increase development assistance, partly through its new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, seen as a rival to Western-backed institutions such as the World Bank.

Few concrete commitments

But there were few other concrete financial commitments or binding multilateral deals to facilitate development projects.
Many African delegates said they secured bilateral deals for increased trade and technical assistance from Asian countries that have experienced more rapid economic growth.

President Widodo said Indonesia also made a number of bilateral deals.

He says he participated in 15 bilateral meetings and in each meeting discussed agreements that were concrete and real. For instance, he says with China they agreed to boost trade to $150 billion and they also signed an agreement to build high speed rail from Jakarta to Bandung.

The Indonesian president criticized Western-led development institutions in a speech earlier this week that to many seemed to be a gesture of support for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Terrorism, human rights

The final declaration condemned terrorism and transnational crime, and endorsed the peaceful resolution of disputes. But no strategy was endorsed and no commitment made for any new unified action to combat this threat. And initial language calling for intelligence sharing was dropped in the final draft.

The declaration also underscored respect for human rights. However many of the participating countries including Iran, Zimbabwe, China, and Myanmar have been criticized for censorship of the media and suppressing democratic opposition.

A second declaration called for the establishment of an independent Palestine and pledged to provide capacity building assistance. To that end Indonesia agreed to work with Sweden to develop training and development programs to help Palestinians prepare for self-rule. Israel was not invited to participate in the conference.