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Asian-African summit opens in Indonesia

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Last updated on: April 22, 2005 14:17 IST

The summit of Asian and African leaders, which will adopt a strategic partnership declaration that will be aimed at strengthening cooperation among countries of the two continents, began in Jakarta on Friday.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will represent India at the two-day meet, which marks the Golden Jubilee of the 1955 Asian-African Conference in Bandung.

Host Indonesia called for the building of a strategic partnership across the Indian Ocean based on the principles laid down at the historic Bandung meet.

India had played a key role at the meet, which gave birth to the Non-Aligned Movement, under the leadership of then PM Jawaharlal Nehru.

The Jakarta summit, intended to bring Asia and Africa towards a better future based on their collective self-reliance and to ensure an enabling international environment for the benefit of peoples of the two continents, has brought together over 100 Asian and African countries with 42 being represented by heads of state or government.

Unlike their founding fathers who initiated the conference in Bandung, 100 km from Jakarta, in 1955 to take a stand against colonialism, the current leaders will trade ideas and initiatives to address myriad problems facing two-thirds of the world's population living in the two continents, ranging from poverty to poor medical care.

Inaugurating the summit, with the theme 'Reinvigorating the Bandung Spirit: Working towards a New Asian-African Strategic Partnership', Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono noted: "The sad fact of history is that while the Bandung spirit lived on after 1955, the Asia-Africa process stumbled.

"The last time we heard of the 'Asia-Africa' conference was in 1965 when the attempt to reconvene the second Asian-African summit in Algiers faltered.

"It faltered not for lack of spirit but for lack of process, for lack of planning and perhaps for lack of prudence," he said.

Asserting that the case for Asia-Africa solidarity was even more compelling today than it was 50 years ago, the Indonesia leader underlined the need for strategic partnership between the nations of the two continents.

"Across the Atlantic ocean there is the formal alliance between Europe and North America. Across the Pacific Ocean there is the formal linkage between Asia and the Americas through APEC [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation] and ASEAN [Association of South East Asian Nations] regional forums.

"But across the Indian Ocean none exists between Asia and Africa despite the success story of the first Asia Africa summit in 1955."

He said the real challenge today before Asia and Africa was not about developing the power to confront, but the power to connect.

"Let us build a strategic partnership that will bind our two continents in a vibrant pragmatic and forward looking way. It should cover three areas - political solidarity, economic cooperation and socio-cultural relations," he said.

"The operation of the strategic partnership should be based on and guided by a wide-range of agreed principles that the nations of Asia and Africa believe in. Foremost of these principles are the Dasa Sila (ten principles) of Bandung laid down in 1955."

If the Bandung spirit is adapted in our hearts and we make the partnership work, 'the story of Asia-Africa in the 21st century can be very different from its 20th century past', he told the opening session.

The summit will adopt the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership declaration, a broad visionary document outlining a programme for closer cooperation in political, economic and social and cultural relations.

Singh, before leaving for Indonesia on a three-day trip to attend the summit, said the NAASP will renew and reaffirm 'our commitment to the values enshrined in the original Bandung conference'.

"We see the New Asian African Strategic Partnership as a forward-looking framework intended to build a bridge of understanding and support between Asia and Africa covering three broad areas of partnership -- political solidarity, economic cooperation and socio-cultural relations," he said.

The PM said the declaration would emphasise the need to promote practical cooperation between the two continents in areas such as trade, industry, investment, finance, tourism, information and communication technology, energy, health, transportation, agriculture, water resources and fisheries.

Singh said he would also be attending the Commemoration of the Golden Jubilee of the Asian-African Conference to be held in Bandung on April 24.

"This is an event of great significance as India was one of the original sponsors of the 1955 Bandung Conference and Pandit Nehru personally played a leading role in its organisation and success," he said.

During his stay in Jakarta, Singh said, he is expected to meet leaders from China, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia as part of efforts to renew bilateral contacts.


Jaishree Balasubramanian in Jakarta
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