Talking Points from the 2015 Asia-Africa Conference in Jakarta


The major results of the 2015 Asia-Africa Conference in Jakarta, including approval of the Bandung Message to Strengthen South-South Cooperation, have been reported in a range of online sources. However, here I would like to focus on a couple of interesting talking points from the conference.

Mediating Between Abe and Xi

The first is the way Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzō and Chinese President Xi Jinping were often seen flanking Indonesian President Joko Widodo. From April 22, the three men frequently walked and sat together, with Widodo at the center. While Abe was forced to return to Japan the following day because of his tight schedule, Xi joined Widodo and other leaders on a symbolic stroll on April 24, commemorating the first Bandung Conference in 1955.

On the morning of April 22, Widodo could be seen engrossed in conversation with Abe on one side before turning the other way to talk to the Chinese president. Then at the evening art event, Indonesian First Lady Iriana Widodo took on the role of turning left and right to charm both leaders.

President Widodo had acknowledged the tense atmosphere between Abe and Xi and tried to neutralize it through smiles and relaxed conversation. He might have thought to himself, “If I could split my body into two and chat with two great leaders simultaneously, everyone would be happy.” Clearly he put much effort into fostering a mood of peace and friendship, although some tension still remained.

Criticism of Global Institutions

The second interesting point was the sharp criticism of the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Asian Development Bank in Widodo’s opening statement at the conference.

In the speech, Widodo called for reform of the UN, which is presently hamstrung and only works for the benefit of major powers. And he indicated that Indonesia could help to create balance between the world’s developed and poorer nations.

When a group of rich countries is capable of changing the world by the use of force, then global inequality clearly brings about misery, especially when the United Nations is helpless.

The use of unilateral force without a clear UN mandate, as we have witnessed, has undermined the importance of our common world body. Therefore, we, the nations of Asia and Africa, demand UN reform, so that it can function better, as a world body that prioritizes justice for all of us. . . .

We also feel the global injustice when a group of established nations are reluctant to recognize that the world has changed. The view that world economic problems can only be solved by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Asian Development Bank, is outdated.

I am of the view that the management of the global economy cannot be left only to those three international financial institutions. We must build a new global economic order that is open to new emerging economic powers.

We push for a reform of the global financial architecture, to eliminate the domination of one group of countries over other countries.

The world needs a collective global leadership, which is exercised in a just and responsible manner. Indonesia as a new emerging economic force, as the world’s largest Muslim country, and as the third largest democracy, stands ready to play a global role as a positive force.

Widodo’s speech surprised many and won applause around the world and also within Indonesia, boosting his popularity in the eyes of the people. His words cannot be taken lightly as they represent the voice of a nation of a quarter of a billion people with a gross domestic product growth rate of 6.5% and the potential to become one of the world’s leading economies in the next two decades.

A Role for Smaller Powers

Perhaps the connection between the above two points is that smaller powers need to have a role in maintaining world peace and economic justice. Naturally, this will require major reform, especially of some global institutions.

Some questioned Widodo’s ability on the global stage when he came to power, but his performance at the Bandung Conference has transformed his image, showing him to be a world leader to be reckoned with.

(Originally written in Indonesian and translated into English. Banner photo: Gala dinner at the Asia-Africa Conference. Photograph courtesy of the author.)

Indonesia Joko Widodo Bandung