When the Third World first got together
Published on: Sunday, May 23, 2021
By: David CC Lim
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THE “Kashmir Princess”, a Lockheed Constellation airliner belonging to Air India was on its way to Bandung on 11th of April, 1955, with a delegation of Chinese diplomats on their way to Djakarta to attend the Asia-Africa Conference to be held on 18th of that month. 

Some 108 miles west of Kuching, a time bomb in the starboard wheel compartment exploded close to the fuel tank of the aircraft disabling all controls. 

The pilot attempted a controlled ditching into the sea close to the Natuna Islands but though a soft touchdown was partially successful as three crew members survived, the rest of those on board perished. 

The survivors were rescued by the islanders who were Indonesians, as by a strange twist of history, the Natuna Islands though in close proximity to both Johore and Sarawak, were deemed by Indonesia as part of its archipelago chain of islands. 

The airliner had been chartered by the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) to bring the Chinese delegation to the Asia- Africa conference in Bandung. The Chinese Premier, Zhou Enlai, who was also expected at the conference, however  was not on board.

To this day it is unclear whether Zhou had been forewarned of the sabotage or whether, by happenstance, he had changed his mind and decided to go to Rangoon to meet U Nu and Nehru before proceeding to Jakarta. 

Han Suyin, in her book on Zhou, “Eldest Son” (Pimlico, 1988), maintains that before the trip Zhou had entertained some former KMT commanders, suffered what was thought to be acute appendicitis, and had to stay a few days in the hospital thereby missing the flight.  

Steve Tsang writing in the China Quarterly (1994) in an article entitled, “Target Zhou Enlai: The “Kashmir Princess” Incident of 1955”, however, thought otherwise. According to him the intended sabotage was known to the PRC, and Zhou was taken off the flight.

The truth was probably somewhere in between. In the book, “Disaster in the Air: The Crash of the Kashmir Princess 1955”, (Reliance Publishing House, New Delhi, 2001,’ the writer, Colonel A.K. Mitra, who was a member of the Commission of Inquiry, reported that the local (Hong Kong) representatives of the New China News Agency who had arranged the charter, reported to the authorities of rumours that the Chinese delegation might be “molested or disturbed” at the airport or on their way there. Security at the airport was tightened in that only authorized personnel were allowed to approach the aircraft:

“The Chinese Government changed its plan at the last moment having got information that there was a plot to harass the members of their Delegation either on the way to the Hong Kong airport or at the airport itself.”

 The incident underscored the importance of the impending conference of the newly emergent de-colonized states to the powers contesting for world hegemony at the time, namely the United States and the Soviet Union. The suspected saboteur, Zhou Zhu, alias, Chu Chun Fai a contract worker at Kaitak airport whose job it was to remove the “chock” from the wheels, was suspected to have planted the time bomb in the starboard wheel bay. He was smuggled out to Taiwan on a CIA operated flight before he could be arrested.

In the Foreword to the book, Major General D.K.Palit, VrC. ( 9th Gorkha Rifles) observes:

“In 1955, both India and Indonesia were newcomers to the international comity of free nation states – somewhat green around the edges, and not yet inured to the polity of international skullduggery. This “new Asia” was still innocent of the ruthlessness of the ‘dirty tricks’ departments of the C.I.A. or the M.I.6.”

Bandung had come at the heels of the Geneva Conference on Korea and Vietnam, held the year before in 1954. It was in a way a follow through, as the Geneva Conference had not included countries in the region that could be affected by the outcome of the talks. Indeed, the Chinese delegation had attended the conference only because they were invited by the Soviet Union.

 The US though was not accommodating, if not clearly hostile. The head of the US delegation, Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles warned the US delegation not to acknowledge the presence the Chinese. Not even a friendly greeting or handshake was allowed. 

To Dulles, before Geneva the newly independent nations had been “held together largely by a cement compounded of fear and a sense of moral superiority”. After Geneva, “the fear is diminished and the moral demarcation is somewhat blurred.” 

It is obvious that Dulles was referring to the “moral superiority” of the Western nations, sensed, as it were by those nations which should then be respectful if not intimidated. (The Devil’s Chessboard, Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government, by David Talbot, William Collins, 2016)

The US later formed Seato, the Baghdad Pact and the Rio Treaty to isolate the Soviet Union from the emerging nations of the South. The message, predating George W. Bush’s infamous threat by half a century, was that if the new nations did not join the United States, then they were against the United States. 

Bandung could be seen as the response of the newly de-colonized nations of Asia and Africa and their leaders to pressure from the two superpowers.

Bandung also marked the entry of the PRC on to the world’s stage, albeit as a small player between the two colossi. For Zhou, the suave scholar-diplomat and Confucian gentleman, it was to be an entrance into international politics where he was to be one of the major players over the next twenty years. Perhaps it was this potential quality of his as a consummate statesman that was seen as a threat by one of the powers.

The Conference, officially called the Asian-African Conference, was proposed by the prime ministers of India, Burma, Ceylon, Indonesia and Pakistan, members of the “Colombo Group” at Bogor in December of 1954; according to Han Suyin, Nehru, the Indian prime minister had been “mortified” at not having been invited to the Geneva Conference. 

The twenty eight attendee-countries, most of which were newly de-colonized, collectively represented some 1.5 billion of the world’s population then. Among them were Lebanon, Morocco, Iraq, Algeria, Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt. Their representatives included such noted freedom fighters as Nehru, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Josip Broz Tito, Kwame Nkrumah and of course, President Sukarno of the host country.

Despite all odds Sukarno had forged an independent country out of an archipelago of a disparate collection of five main islands, and thousands of smaller ones. Looking neither east (at that time the USSR) nor West, he had fashioned a system of government, he called a “Guided Democracy” to suit local conditions. 

The underdeveloped country he inherited from the Dutch colonizers was beset with numerous problems, among which were the threat of communism and the presence of a large majority of migrant races in the country, particularly the Chinese who were seen as loyal only to either the PRC or Taiwan.

At the conference, he took the opportunity to consult Zhou on the problem: 

“You will forgive me, but we Indonesians are worried,” he said to Zhou privately,” My dear brother, what is the answer?”

Zhou agreed that it was a problem, and promised to look into it. He understood the Indonesians. He was fully aware of the problem of the presence of an overwhelming number of Overseas Chinese in the newly independent nations of Southeast Asia. 

Sensitive to the potential anti-Chinese sentiment, he had earlier warned the Chinese delegation against harbouring feelings of what he called, “Han Chauvinism”, and to adopt or tolerate the local mores while there (‘Eldest Son’).

The Conference marked the high point of Sukarno’s rise as a statesman and leader in the third world. Domestically, he had united the peoples of Indonesia and given them a common language, Bahasa Indonesia, though he himself spoke Javanese. Out of all the ideologies he knew so well as a student of political philosophy, he fashioned for the country the “Pancasila”; five principles that include the core beliefs of all religions, universal civilization, justice and human rights.

Alhough he also knew Arabic, French, German and Japanese, he addressed the delegations in impeccable English.  The conference was, as he put it, a milestone, being “the first intercontinental conference of coloured peoples in the history of mankind.” 

However, mindful that what he said would be carefully monitored by the west, specifically, the United States, he softened his call to mobilize “all the political strength of Asia and Africa on the side of peace” by noting that April 18 was also the anniversary of  the famous midnight ride of Paul Revere, an act that launched the American Revolution.

It was to no avail. The United States in the fifties having elbowed aside the colonial powers was not going to let the resources of the newly independent countries get out of the hands of its own international corporations. 

The politicians working hand in glove with the international corporations would deliberately destabilize those countries seen to threaten those interests to get rid of any opposition. 

The Congo, Guatemala and the former British Guiana were all subject to “regime change”. Washington even endorsed the CIA-arranged murder of Congo’s first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba in 1960. Sukarno himself was deposed by his own military with American assistance in September, 1065.

 It was inevitable that such a diverse collection of leaders at the conference in such electrified atmosphere would be chary of what stand the conference would take. They also have different opinions as to what was ailing the world, and the solutions to the problems faced by their own countries.

The former prime minister of Iraq stated that the three international forces threatening world peace and harmony were; “colonialism, Zionism and communism”. The representative of the Lebanon added; “fanaticism in every form, extreme nationalism and hatred of foreigners”. 

In the face of these expressions of fear of imperialism and, especially communism, the Chinese Premier sought to assuage their worries, and impressed upon the delegates the need for mutual respect, national sovereignty and non-interference with the internal affairs of individual nations. 

He also stressed the need to put aside ideological differences and use their resources for economic development.

On framing the final communiqué of the conference to the world, there were quibbles on the terms to be used, though the principles had been accepted by all.  All were agreed on the evils of colonization, but issues with  the use of the words “anti-colonisation” and “anti-imperialism” arose as the latter appeared to some to be ideologically loaded, seeming to refer only to the western powers. 

The prime minister of Sri Lanka, the newly knighted Sir John Kotalawalla objected due to the use of the word “imperialism” per se and wanted to expand the mention to “imperialism of the west” and “imperialism of the east”. 

The Indian Foreign Minister, Krishna Menon, known for his diplomatic skill as well as his “acerbic tongue” came up with a brilliant formulation that was accepted in the final draft: ‘imperialism in all its manifestation’. Sir John was persuaded. Menon was later reported to have said impishly, “we made them agree to something they do not understand.”(G.P.D., below)

After much to-ing and fro-ing over the exact words to be used in the final charter, five principles were accepted: complete respect for national sovereignty and integrity of other nations; no intervention or interference in the territory or internal affairs of each other and other nations; to refrain from acts of aggression; to recognize the equality of races, and finally, respect for the fundamental human rights in line with the Charter of the United Nations.

Very noble goals they were, but today Bandung is largely forgotten or ignored. It is remembered, if at all, as a relic of the idealism of the newly emergent nations of Asia and Africa, much like a frolic of youthful nations into the serious business of geopolitics, like flower power and Woodstock in the sixties. Realpolitik now dictates the actions of each state and what counts is what is of benefit to that state, not morality or ethics or the United Nation Charters.

 S. Rajaratnam, one time second deputy prime minister of Singapore viewed the conference as a high water mark during the phase of anti-colonialism in Asia and Africa, when there was a “sense of solidarity and common purpose”. But that sentiment, he maintained, has “degenerated into a divisive ideology, breeding with a significant consistency all over Asia, sub-nationalism based on race language, religion and tribes”. The Non-Aligned Movement that rose from Bandung had been trounced, in a sense, by self-interest, pragmatism and globalization and, to put it crudely, “loot”.

In an article in the Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 20, No. 18 (1985), entitled, ‘Memories of Bandung’ G.P.D.(initials only of the author) remarked:

“The Bandung spirit has gone sour precisely because over the years imperialism has become respectable. Nobody would suggest that the LDCs must sever all connections with the West. That is not possible, nor is it necessary. 

But it requires a certain toughness to deal with the West. It also requires a perspective. The element of loot has not disappeared from the relationship of the West with Africa and Asia.”

Thirty years on (2015), from the perspective of all the attendee countries, now matured, the Spirit of Bandung persisted and still resonated, according to the Chief of Staff of President Joko Widodo, Luhur B Panjaican writing in The Straits Times of April 23, 2015, on the sixtieth anniversary of the conference: 

“Why is the Bandung Spirit relevant today? The Cold War is over, the Soviet Union is no more, the East-West conflict has passed into history, and globalization has erased the sharp contours of the North-South divide.

The centre of global economic activity is passing to Asia. Today Indonesia is a confident member of the Group of 20 sunrise economies, not a newly decolonized nation. Why, then, invoke the spirit of past times? 

The answer: “South-South cooperation, one of the central themes of the commemorative event, is not a fashionable slogan. It is a real attempt to ensure the benefits of globalization can be shared more equitably among the teeming masses that make up the majority of the world’s population. That effort resonates with the Bandung Spirit.”

The verdict, however, came with an optimistic proviso: “Although a new Cold War is not in the offing – at least, not yet – the contours of great – power rivalry are getting clearer.”

Apparently the optimism is misplaced, as six years later, in 2021, we see the advent of a new Cold War. After the fall and dissolution of the Soviet Union, and a brief but heady period of unipolar domination (End of History!), the world is now seeing division again with an Eastern bloc and a Western bloc. The rise of China as a world power, both economically and militarily, poses a threat to Western hegemony, giving rise to another possible existential confrontation. 

The countries of the South are once again pushed to make a choice as to which side they would support. It is a conundrum for most countries. 

Today’s Cold War has morphed into a Hybrid War, an on-going war on all fronts between the two superpowers, economic, cultural, tactical, covert, info-wars, psy-ops and subterfuge, and on such a scale as have not been seen before. With barriers being rapidly deployed by both protagonists, it is not easy for countries to be neutral or to make a choice as to which side to be on.

In addition to Nato in Europe, the US now seeks to form a similar bulwark against China in Asia by the “pivot to Asia” policy, by forming the “Quad”, an alliance between the US, India, Japan and Australia. Nato has even now extended its operations (‘exercises’) into the northern Pacific, posing a direct threat to China. 

Witness the fate of Libya, a country taken apart so that it resources can be plundered under the guise of the need to protect its ethnic minorities. The modus operandi is apparent in the present attempt to force a “regime change” in Syria and Venezuela. 

Where there is a push-back, sanctions are used to “soften” the resistance, regardless of the death, pain or misery caused to the population they purport to seek to protect. 

Today, as the two blocs confront each other at the flashpoints in the Ukraine and in the South China Sea, the risk of a clash and of the inevitable and ensuing “unintended consequences” becomes a real and existential threat to the whole world. 

At the conference, Nehru sees such a threat to the nations of Asia and Africa:

 “Every country makes mistakes…but the mistakes the great powers make do make a difference to the world and may well bring about a terrible catastrophe…you have today two mighty colossuses, neither of whom can put an end to each other but obviously they can ruin each other and the rest of the world.”

During the Dienbienphu debacle, Dulles had offered the French two atomic bombs. It was also widely known that the use of the bomb was contemplated in the Korean War, and the dispute between the PRC and Taiwan over Quemoy island.

Today, the unrelenting use of propaganda in the compliant and politically controlled western mass media to demonise a target country, by use of such word as “regime” hinting at illegitimacy of a government, or a particular party, or the use of “totalitarian” or “dictator”, as in reference to Iran, Syria, Venezuela and China, seeks to mobilize world opinion against that country so that a subsequent act of violence, war or sanction could be justified in the eyes of the world. The fate of Iraq and Libya serves as an object lesson to all. 

There is a crying need then for independent nonaligned countries in this age to speak up as they did at Bandung so that war rhetoric and propaganda can be put in their proper places, and disastrous regional wars, such as those in Syria, Libya and the Yemen be terminated. 

 Hollow phrases such as “to promote democracy, and free, fair and reciprocal trade” and, “ensure more respect for transparency and human rights” that are constantly being drummed in the mass media in order to inflame local dissatisfaction, should be seen for what they really are ­– meaningless drivel. 

The Wall Street Journal recently used the term, “political intimidation” to describe the Russian build-up of arms within its own borders in response to threat of war from the Ukraine. 

The term, applied fairly across the board and over the world, would have the United States ‘politically intimidating’ half the world; another example of unbridled use of neologisms to obscure the real agenda of the user.

Stealthy promotion of armed insurrection in these “target countries” must be roundly condemned. Hence, the Spirit of Bandung has to be invoked once again.

 Sukarno in his inaugural speech seems to be speaking of the precarious condition of our world today:

“Great chasms yawn between nations and groups of nations. Our unhappy world is torn and tortured, and the peoples of all countries walk in fear, lest, through no fault of theirs, the dogs of war are unchained once again.”

With an uncanny insight Sukarno also identified the probable cause of future conflict; he calls it the fight for the “Life-line of imperialism”. 

This line runs from the Straits of Gibraltar, through the Mediterranean the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea and the Sea of Japan and along this main artery of imperialism was “pumped the life blood of colonialism”. Today there is a struggle for exclusive control of these routes some of which now form part of China’s “Belt and Road” initiative.

It may not be a coincidence that Myanmar, a country that forms an important part in the chain of countries linking up the Belt and Road has been recently beset with troubles over its ethnic minority, and is even now in turmoil. 

In order to empower the countries of the third world in seeking the middle road, Sukarno advocates an ideology, not based on liberal capitalism or communism, but based on the “highest code of morality and ethics”, which he defines as “the subordination of everything to the well-being of mankind”.

He decries the state of the world today, in which those who are in “places of high power think rather, of controlling the world”, and warns of subversion:

 “Colonialism has also its modern dress, in the form of economic control, intellectual control actual physical control by a small but alien community within a nation. It is a skilful and determined enemy and it appears in many guises. It does not give up its loot easily.”

Sukarno also makes a curious reference to the existence of an indeterminate power abroad in the world, a dark force that seeks world hegemony,  perhaps that which is referred to by some today as the ‘globalism’ or the ‘globalists’ :

 “There is a force loose in the world whose potentiality for evil no man truly knows. Even in practice and rehearsal for war the effects may well be building up into something of unknown horror.”

It was a bold statement to make at an international conference, but it was also one that could be said to be fully in consonant with the beliefs among all the native peoples of the third world.

Religion was seen as fostering and fomenting divisions and conflict and bloodshed:

“Unless we realize that all great religions are one in their message of tolerance and in their insistence on the observance of the principle of “Live and let live”, unless the followers of each religion are prepared to give the same consideration to the rights of the others everywhere, unless every State does its duty to ensure that the same rights are given to the followers of all faiths – unless these things are done religion is debased, and its true purpose perverted.”

The winds of war are sweeping over the East and the West. The Bandung Spirit has to be revived, at the least, the spirit of “live and let live” must be fostered and preached to the world.  Countries must have the courage to make a stand on the side of ethics and morality, and not the side of the rich and powerful.

 Blackmail, economic and otherwise must be resisted, and in this respect, leaders of the independent neutral countries must be exemplary in their conduct.


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