Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Retrieving the Bandung Conference ... Moment by Moment

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Retrieving the Bandung Conference ... Moment by Moment

Article excerpt

Review of Bandung 1955: Little histories Edited by DEREK McDOUGALL and ANTONIA FINNANE Caulfield: Monash University Press, 2010. Pp. 139. Notes, Bibliography, Index.

Review of Making a world after empire: The Bandung moment and its political afterlives Edited by CHRISTOPHER J. LEE Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010. Pp. 361. Photos, Notes, Select Bibliography, Index.

The Asian-African Conference at Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955 has been written into twentieth-century history as 'a moment' made up of 'little histories', as the titles of the two volumes reviewed here suggest. Both belong to the literature on the Bandung Conference published since its fiftieth anniversary, the broad scope of which underscores the intricate and diffuse nature of the Conference. While offering new perspectives, the contributors also add to its ambiguity: Was Bandung a continuation of the struggle against imperialism? An episode of the Cold War? A protest against centuries of racial humiliation? Or a communist plot? It may well have comprised elements of all these.

The Conference itself was enormously complex, given its delegates, the powers jostling for influence at its margins, and the tense international events swirling around it. There were 29 highly diverse newly independent nation-states present. Despite their strong differences, all shared a unifying experience--a fraught history with the West. They also shared the experience of emerging from colonies, protectorates or trusteeships amid extremely troubled times. Moreover, there was intense pressure on decolonising Asia and Africa to align with either capitalism (the United States and its allies) or communism (the vying monoliths of the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China; PRC).

Cold War tensions ran high in a volatile Asia in the 1950s, compounded by economic weakness and military vulnerability. In 1954, US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles refused to sign the Geneva Peace Accords, leaving the way open for further armed conflict in Vietnam and no permanent peace reached after the Korean War, resulting in a divided Korea. In 1955, the US Navy was patrolling the Formosa (Taiwan) Strait, convinced that the PRC was about to seize the Quemoy and Matsu islands. Asia itself had split into aligned and non-aligned states when the Philippines, Thailand and Pakistan became part of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) upon signing the Manila Pact.

Bandung 1955: Little histories is a collection of seven papers drawn from two gatherings: one in Canberra in 2004, the other in Chicago in 2005, focusing on the Conference itself, and the external influences both before and after. The volume flits from the Conference to the influencing factors around it in a rather disorganised way and some updating of the papers prior to publication would have been useful to avoid small but irritating errors. By contrast, Making a world after empire clearly sets out its broad historical intentions about 'the origins and afterlives' of the Bandung Conference. It was the product of a 2005 gathering at Stanford University, which examined twentieth-century Afro-Asian connections. But neither volume, in fact, is introduced in a way that accurately reflects what it delivers.

Little histories is introduced in a half-hearted tone, with Antonia Finnane stating that the Bandung Conference 'now has little historical resonance outside the Asian region' (p. 1), a statement somewhat belied by the conferences, books and articles in the wake of the fiftieth anniversary. (1) There are disappointing errors, for example when Finnane mentions Gamal Nkrumah as 'son of one Bandung delegate and namesake of another' (p. 3). Gamal's father Kwame Nkrumah did not attend the Bandung Conference for reasons that offer important insights. As Adekeye Adebajo has pointed out in Bandung revisited (2008), Nkrumah was prevented from attending by the British government (2) as the Gold Coast was at a critical stage of negotiations towards independence in 1955. …

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