Keeping Asian, African values alive

Keeping Asian, African values alive

The 60th anniversary of the Asian-African Conference (AAC) will this place this week, putting Bandung in the world's spotlight again. In 1955, heads of state and government representatives from the two continents gathered in the West Java capital city to discuss and debate their common problems and ways to address their own grievances.

At the end of the conference they formulated the Dasasila, the 10 principles that would later guide countries around the world to peace and cooperation. After six decades, the spirit of Bandung remains relevant.

Promoting peace and cooperation in today's hostile world is badly needed. For such purpose the Dasasila still matters and should be reasserted and highlighted at this year's conference.

The reassertion is of particular importance for Asian and African countries, partly because conflicts that may destablize world peace have arisen in these two continents. Just to name just a few, the violence in Yemen rooted in local rivalries, Boko Haram, the Islamic State (IS) movement and the decades-long South China Sea dispute.

Thus, other than celebrating the 60th anniversary of the AAC, the conference itself bears significance. From this conference it is expected that a number of initiatives will be taken as a follow up to the New Asian African Strategic Partnership.

The initiatives will hopefully result in increased understanding not only among the current generation but also future generations across Asia and Africa. Understanding is important because it helps people in the two continents share values that may be different from European values.

Many would think that universal values are truly universal, representing all countries of the world. Unfortunately, they are not. Universal values mostly come from Europe or countries that share European traditions.

This is not to say that we should not subscribe to European values. But universal values should really represent the values of the five continents.

Why do we need universal values beyond European values?

First, in order to understand phenomena happening in various countries, in particular Asia and African, we cannot rely on European values. One cannot comprehend development on the ground in Asia and Africa merely using the European framework.

Second, before European values were adopted as universal values, values from Asia, Arab and Chinese civilizations, in particular, had been widely recognized.

Third, the next generation of Asia and Africa live in an environment where media influence is deeply rooted. The next generation, thanks to the rapid transfer of information, may think that there are no values other than European values even though they live far away from Europe or countries that subscribe to European values.

The next generation of Asia and Africa are more familiar with countries and cities on European, American and Australian continents rather than their own continents. What can we do about this?

This is where the initiatives and agendas for cooperation between Asian and African countries are pressing. Leaders who gather for the commemorative summit have to start with helping current and future generations learn about their continents.

People initiatives must top the list. The exchange of high school students between countries in Asia or between Asia and Africa should be encouraged and realized. The program could emulate the AFS Intercultural program of the United States.

Student exchange will encourage younger generations to learn the cultures, languages and various aspects of life of other nations. Alternatively, university students from Asia could study in universities in Africa and vice versa.

Embassies of Asian and African countries should promote and encourage more understanding among locals of their respective countries. For instance, in Indonesia, the Nigerian or South African embassies should hold events to help Indonesians learn about their countries. Indonesian embassies in South Africa and Nigeria should do the same.

People-to-people interaction can be further strengthened by business-to-business contact. Chambers of commerce of the continents should meet intensively and regularly to look for business opportunities.

In short, initiatives should not stop at the negotiation table or with a document. To realize the initiatives, the respective governments should provide funding.

Once interactions among Asian and African nations intensify, values from the two continents will influence the world and be adopted as universal values. This is not to say that European values are no longer needed but more universal values should emerge.

Every time the late South African leader Nelson Mandela wore a batik shirt, Indonesian people were very proud. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo wore a batik shirt at the APEC summit last November. Indonesians now confidently wear batik instead of suits in formal meetings abroad.

Indonesia as initiator of the AAC in 1955 should be at the forefront in promoting Asian and African values to people of the continents and the world.

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