PM Lee pays tribute to Asian-African conference on 60th anniversary

JAKARTA - The Asian-African Conference of 1955 in Bandung that President Sukarno initiated was a major post-war landmark that inspired the independence of many new countries, Singapore included, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Wednesday.

And the best way for countries to honour the legacy of Bandung is to build on it and adapt it to a new century and a very different world, Mr Lee told leaders from some 30 countries at the second Asian-African Summit.

This week's summit is part of a series of events marking the 60th anniversary of the 1955 Bandung conference, which was attended by newly independent countries at the time to work together and avoid having to choose sides between the United States and the Soviet Union. The ongoing summit seeks to foster greater cooperation between Asia and Africa to improve growth and prosperity on all sides, in line with the spirit forged in Bandung six decades earlier.

Bandung "connected Asian and African countries together, under common values of non-alignment and self-determination, and inspired the independence of many new countries," Mr Lee said.

"In the case of Singapore ourselves, Africa also made a contribution in our independence struggle," he added.

Mr Lee recounted how in 1964, when Singapore was part of Malaysia, then-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew led a mission to Africa to explain the concept of Malaysia to friends on the continent.

"He visited 17 African capitals over 35 days. The solidarity we got from our African friends at the United Nations and in international fora played an important role in securing support for Malaysia," he said.

"Many of the friends Mr Lee made more than half a century ago are still our friends today," PM Lee added.

He also thanked many of the leaders who had conveyed their condolences for Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who died on March 23, aged 91.

In his speech, PM Lee said that Singapore sent missions to Africa to explore new trade and business opportunities after becoming an independent nation in 1965 - but these links were slow to take off.

"However, I am glad that in recent years, the story has changed," he added.

Relations between Singapore and Africa are picking up, and Singapore organised the third Africa-Singapore Business Forum last year.

"Speaking from an East Asian perspective, we still don't understand Africa enough, so we need to work hard to appreciate this diverse, enormous and tremendously vibrant continent better," PM Lee said.

He added that he was glad the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership (NAASP) chaired by Indonesia and South Africa since 2005 was seeing greater cooperation between Asia and Africa.

Both regions have become interdependent and inter-related, and can tackle common challenges like terrorism, pandemics and climate change together, he added.

Both can also exchange ideas on how to meet sustainable development goals, which will be launched at the United Nations this year.

Singapore, PM Lee noted, was sharing its development experience with friends through the Singapore Co-operation Programme.

"We had benefitted from such partnerships earlier in our economic development, when many other countries provided technical assistance and helped to train Singaporeans and get us to make the first step of economic development," he said.

"So we are glad that now we made a little progress, we are able to do likewise for other countries and to pay it forward."

Over the past two decades, 8,000 African officials have been trained through courses under the programme.

One recent example is a joint project with the United Nations Office for Disaster Reduction, which focuses on setting up early warning systems, conducting vulnerability assessments, and adapting to climate change.

Singapore also supports efforts on urbanisation, as well as on water and sanitation, at ongoing discussions on a development agenda at the UN.

It has also made a contribution by organising the World Cities Summit and the Singapore International Water Week last year, which was attended by over 120 Asian and African ministers and mayors.

"Our Indonesian colleagues have laid the very valuable groundwork for the Asian-African Conference to remain relevant," Mr Lee said.

Speaking earlier at the summit's opening, Indonesian president Joko Widodo identified three key areas for leaders to work on: improving the prosperity and welfare of people in Asia and Africa, boosting solidarity by strengthening connectedness between the two regions in areas from trade to infrastructure, and creating a climate of stability in the world, including through countering extremism and solving conflict.

"We must build a new global economic order that is open to new emerging economic powers," Mr Joko said. "The world needs collective global leadership which is exercised in a just and responsible manner."

PM Lee is scheduled to meet Mr Joko later this afternoon, and will attend a gala dinner at the presidential palace for visiting leaders before leaving for Singapore tonight.