Palestine and Permanent Seats on Asia-Africa Agenda

BY :ERWIDA MAULIA

APRIL 14, 2015

Jakarta. Observers have high hopes that the upcoming 60th anniversary commemorations of the Asian-African Conference in Jakarta and Bandung can produce significant outcomes — ranging from a concrete road map for an independent Palestine, to a higher geopolitical stature for countries from the two continents.

Teuku Rezasyah, the executive director of the Indonesian Center for Democracy, Diplomacy and Defense, said on Monday that he believed the high-profile commemoration would be more than just a series of ceremonies.

“It will have substance. If Palestine is indeed on the agenda, the commemoration will be substantial, because Palestine is the only participant from the 1955 Asian-African Conference that has still not yet gained independence,” said Rezasyah, who is also an international relations lecturer at Padjajaran University in Bandung, where the historic conference was held in 1955.

A declaration on Palestinian statehood is among three documents expected to be signed by heads of state or government at the end of the 60th anniversary commemoration of the conference, which kicks off this Sunday in Jakarta with a meeting of senior officials from participating countries.

The Asian-African Summit, which will feature heads of state and government, is scheduled for April 22-23 at the Jakarta Convention Center, while a ceremony to commemorate the 1955 conference will take place in Bandung the following day, and will include a walk by the leaders down Jalan Asia Afrika in the West Java capital, retracing a similar procession by the leaders of 60 years ago.

The anniversary conference is also expected to conclude with two other declarations: the Bandung Message and the Declaration of Reinvigorating the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership. Both are expected to redefine and bolster the relationships and partnerships between Asian and African nations.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno L.P. Marsudi said in Jakarta last week that the three documents had been intensively discussed by AAC representatives in New York.

“The deliberations in New York are 70 percent complete. The target is [that by the time of the summit] in Jakarta they will be 80 percent complete, and then they will be discussed at the head-of-state level,” Retno said as quoted by CNN Indonesia.

Rezasyah said that although the pro-Palestinian independence cause kept failing at larger international forums, including the United Nations, he believed the meetings in Jakarta and Bandung next week would reinvigorate the cause.

“The Asian-African Summit gives the participants more liberty [to openly express their support for Palestine]. The five countries that hold veto power [in the UN Security Council] won’t be in attendance, except for China. And China will definitely support [Palestinian independence],” he said.

Rezasyah also said he expected the conference to conclude with strong calls for changes or additions to the permanent membership of the UN Security Council, held by the United States, China, Russia, France and Britain.

“Those five countries do not equally represent global citizens by population, geography or politics,” Rezasyah said. “The [conference] should conclude with proposals for new permanent members of the UN Security Council.”

He said Indonesia could make a strong case for a permanent seat on council, representing Southeast Asia; Australia could represent the Australasian region; and either Egypt or Algeria could represent the Middle East and Africa.

“The proposals can be included in a joint communique that will be read out on the last day [of the conference],” Rezasyah said.

Hikmahanto Juwana, a professor of international law at the University of Indonesia, said conference participants should stick to three key issues if they wanted the event to carry any weight internationally.

“First, they should discuss how Asian and African nations should bring color to the existing universal values,” he said.

“The so-called universal values we’ve had this whole time are influenced exclusively by European states or other nations that carry European traditions, such as the United States. In the past, there were attempts to promote Asian values, but they didn’t work. We can try now with Asian and African values.”

Second, Hikmahanto said, Asian and African nations must proclaim their rejection of developed nations’ intervention through economic dependency.

“Many Asian and African states are bound by dependency in the economic sector. [Developed nations] intervene with other countries’ sovereignty — including Indonesia’s — through loans or grants,” he said.

“This isn’t forced intervention, but intervention caused by dependency. This issue must be addressed.”

Third, the Asian and African leaders must discuss how to tackle crises currently afflicting their parts of the world, such as the militant uprisings of Boko Haram in West Africa and Al Shabaab in East Africa, Hikmahanto said.

Rezasyah said this was an important point, given past experiences that showed how intervention by the United States and Europe in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan had left behind destruction in those two nations and destabilized the Middle East.

Hikmahanto expressed doubt, though, that the conference would carry any weight if the number of heads of state or government confirmed to attend remained as low as reported.

Retno said last Friday said only around 25 foreign leaders had confirmed their attendance. The number of countries sending a delegation currently stands at 57, out of the 109 invited.

Among those confirmed to attend are Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Abe said at a meeting in Tokyo on Monday that Japan would use the conference to make further contributions to the development of Asia and Africa, according to the Japan Times.

The newspaper also said Abe would deliver a speech on April 22, which, coming on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, is expected to convey Japan’s remorse over its actions in the war and explain the country’s postwar path as a pacifist nation.

Xi’s attendance, meanwhile, is meant to show that the Chinese government intends to contribute directly to maintaining the spirit of the 10-point “declaration on promotion of world peace and cooperation” produced at the end of the 1955 conference, according to Xie Feng, the Chinese ambassador to Indonesia.

“China and Indonesia are friends. Moreover, the Bandung Spirit can bring a new chapter in Asia and Africa’s relations,” Xie was quoted as saying in Jakarta last week by the official website of the AAC Commemorations 2015.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said 18 foreign leaders were seeking bilateral meetings with President Joko Widodo on the sidelines of the event, including Xi, Abe and leaders from Myanmar, Iran, Palestine, Vietnam, Jordan, Nepal, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

The 60th anniversary commemoration of the Bandung conference will also feature a host of other events on the sidelines, including the Asian-African Business Summit in Jakarta, as well as a “smart city” summit, a student conference, and a carnival, all in Bandung.

Nearly 10,000 police personnel will be dispatched to provide security during the series of events.

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