Over half a century ago, in April 1955, Indonesia hosted the Bandung Conference or the “Asian-African Conference” (or “African-Asian Conference”). In a statement implicitly critical of both the United States and the Soviet Union, the attendees—who represented twenty-nine countries and more than half the world’s population—condemned “colonialism in all of its manifestations.”
Beyond its lofty principles, the conference is remembered for the friendship on display between two attendees in particular, China’s Zhou Enlai and India’s Jawaharlal Nehru, leaders that would be divided by deepening suspicion and a border war in the years ahead.
Reports from the recently concluded Bali conference on global warming had echoes of Bandung, as when Kevin Conrad, the delegate from Papua New Guinea spoke:
“We seek your leadership,” he said referring to the United States. “But if for some reason you are not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please, get out of the way.”
Or comments by Kapil Sibal the Indian Minister of Science and Technology:
"Those who want to remain on the periphery of the protocol but want to ask developing countries to bear the burden. That is against the spirit of the multilateral agreement and not acceptable.''
Or, finally, at the end of the conference:
Xie Zhenhua, China’s lead delegate at the conference, took the floor and welcomed on the United States “onto this bus.” But he quickly added: “The United States is not in the driver’s seat.”
The presence of wealthy European and North American states alongside developing world countries (“Third World” having disappeared as a potent political term and even become somewhat un-pc since Zhou and Nehru’s generation) made Bali different. The old dividing lines have clearly blurred—for better or worse.
But that sense from the old Bandung conference that something big is at stake (global warming being undeniably "big") and that differences of rich and poor matter, that we're not all in the same boat, not yet... that was there again.
[Photos courtesy of NY Times and Memo]