US Ambassador Says Kim Jong-un Visit to Bandung a Matter for Indonesia


JANUARY 29, 2015

[This story was first published at 3:17 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015, and this update adds details and comments]

Jakarta. As Indonesia prepares to welcome as many as 109 heads of state to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Bandung Conference this April, the US ambassador to Indonesia advised a cautious approach to one name on the list: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The original Asia-Africa Conference was held in Jakarta and Bandung in April 1955 and attended by 29 countries. It was an important precursor to the Non-Aligned Movement, which consisted of 120 member states.

The Indonesian government, which has been touting what it calls a “foreign policy principle” of “independent and active,”

invited 109 heads of state to attend the 60th anniversary commemoration of the event in Jakarta from April 19-23 and in Bandung, West Java, on April 24.

“It’s a decision that Indonesia has to make,” US Ambassador Robert Blake said, referring to the invitation extended to Kim.

“However, Indonesia should be cautious with the world view on the sanctioned country. Of course, this will be a consideration for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

Blake said the US Embassy had yet to receive official notice of Kim’s plans to attend the April event.

Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said the North Korean leader had yet to RSVP.

South Korean news agency Yonhap, however, reported on Sunday that Kim may attend.

If he did so, it would be the North Korean leader’s debut on the diplomatic stage. He has reportedly not traveled overseas since he took power in December 2011.

“The communist North apparently makes much of the Bandung Conference, from which the Non-Aligned Movement emerged. Pyongyang has often sought to use it for diplomatic campaigns,” Yonhap reported. “The North’s founding leader Kim Il-sung joined a 1965 ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of the birth of the conference. The late leader Kim Jong-il accompanied him.”

Yonhap further quoted a South Korean government source as saying: “For Kim Jong-un, who models himself after Kim Il-sung, the Bandung meeting will be a noteworthy diplomatic schedule.”

Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil said he was excited by the prospect of Bandung being in the spotlight.

“All eyes will be on Bandung on April 24, especially if the North Korean leader is coming,” Ridwan said. “It’s everyone’s right [to visit Bandung]. They are all invited. We invited his [Kim’s] country. Whether the country is bad or not is not a criteria to extend an invitation.”

Ridwan added that as part the anniversary’s commemoration, the heads of state would be asked to participate in a historical walk along Jl. Asia Africa, starting from Savoy Homann Hotel, where several important guests, including President Sukarno, stayed during the 1955 conference, to Merdeka Building, which hosted the conference, and ending at the town center.

Teuku Rezasyah, international relations lecturer at Bandung’s Padjajaran University (Unpad), slammed the US ambassador’s cautious remarks against the invitation Indonesia had extended for Kim.

“Indonesia is an initiator of the Asia-Africa Conference. And Indonesia is a sovereign nation that cannot be dictated to as to whom we should invite and whom we should not,” said Rezasyah, also the executive director of the Indonesian Center for Democracy, Diplomacy and Defense. “The US Embassy in Indonesia has far too often made statements that insult Indonesia’s sovereignty.”

He said Kim’s reported plan to attend indicated the North Korean leader’s intention to contribute to world peace.

“That [promoting peace] is the spirit of Dasasila Bandung,” Rezasyah said, referring to the 10-point “declaration on promotion of world peace and cooperation” agreed to by leaders of 29 Asian and African nations who attended the 1955 conference.

He added that the empyrean ideals of the communique, if realized through action, would help North Korea open up to the world.

In particular, Rezasyah cited economic cooperation and peaceful resolution of conflicts as points of emphasis among member states of the Non-Aligned Movement, as well as consultations involving the bloc’s leaders on collective challenges they face.

“If [Kim] really does come to Indonesia, it will be a chance for Indonesia to show the world that the country [North Korea] that has always been scorned by the West is willing to take part in restoring the world’s peace.”

Rezasyah speculated that the United States was probably worried that Kim would issue statements such as that it was developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes — “unlike those big countries that develop nuclear power to threaten other countries,” he added.

He added, however, that he hoped Kim, if he does attend, would refrain from issuing provocative statements that would be counterproductive to the Bandung conference’s spirit of non-alignment and peace.

Meanwhile, Ferdy Piay, acting director for Asia-Pacific and Africa cooperation at Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry, said Indonesia was hoping to garner support for the cause of Palestinian independence by including it in the agenda of the upcoming events in April.

“The Palestinian issue is very important to Asia and Africa, since the [Bandung] conference was conceived as a means to fight colonialism,” Ferdy said.

“As part of the Asia-Africa solidarity, it is important that we share a similar stance [on Palestinian statehood], and we hope to put it in a joint statement.”