World History 2 247 - 14.3.2 The Bandung Conference and Indonesia

Among European nations, Yugoslavia’s refusal to become a member of either the Western or the Eastern Bloc made it an exception. But a desire to plot a middle path between the superpowers was common in former colonies or protectorates of European powers, especially in South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

In April 1955 representatives from twenty-nine such countries in Asia and Africa gathered at a conference in Bandung, Indonesia. Their goal was to be able to rely on one another as they strove to industrialize and avoid the need to turn to Europe, the United States, or the Soviet Union for assistance. This aim formed the basis for the Non-Aligned Movement, an attempt by newly independent nations to stay out of the orbit of either the Western or the Eastern Bloc.

Indonesia assumed a leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement. An anti-Dutch independence campaign had developed there before World War II, and in August 1945 two of its leaders, Mohammad Hatta and Kusno Sosrodihardjo, known as Sukarno, proclaimed independence for Indonesia, a status that became official in 1949. Sukarno, on becoming president, stressed that the nation wished to remain neutral in foreign affairs.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union desired Indonesia as an ally. It was a country with a large population, oil deposits, and a strategically advantageous geographical position. Both sides believed Indonesia’s future path—communist or democratic—would greatly influence the other nations of Asia. Accordingly, both courted Sukarno, and Sukarno accepted aid from both. In his eyes, so long as he did not allow either superpower to determine Indonesia’s affairs, his country was neutral.

In 1956, Sukarno visited China and was impressed by what Mao Zedong had been able to achieve. Believing Mao’s ability to centralize power lay at the heart of China’s success, upon his return to Indonesia, Sukarno established a National Council made up of representatives of larger social groups, such as peasants and workers, to reach decisions by consensus rather than by voting. In the new “Guided Democracy” he established in 1959, the consensus of the nation would be expressed through the president instead of the legislature. To shore up his autocratic authority, Sukarno turned to both the Indonesian Communist Party and the conservative armed forces. His goal was the creation of an Indonesian state based on what he called NASAKOM, an acronym standing for nationalism, religion, and communism.

By 1964 Sukarno had abandoned all pretense of neutrality and sought alliances with communist countries while encouraging anti–United States sentiment in Indonesia. In 1965, Suharto, a general in the Indonesian military, claimed that Indonesian communists had sought to subvert the government by plotting to kill Sukarno. Suharto’s subsequent destruction of Indonesia’s communists, carried out with the aid of the CIA, may have cost the lives of some one million people (Figure 14.12). In 1967, Suharto removed Sukarno from office and assumed dictatorial powers.

A photograph of the profile of a man in military gear is shown. He is in the front right of the picture and has a cap on, sunglasses, and an emblem on his left shoulder. There is a flat square platform in front of him and group of people in the background. In the group, a woman dressed in a black dress and sunglasses stands, surrounded by many others Some of the men are dressed in military gear with caps and other women are in black dresses.
Figure 14.12 Major-General Suharto (right) attends a funeral for generals he claimed were killed in a communist coup. He used the supposed coup as an excuse to kill Indonesian communists. (credit: “Suharto at funeral” by Department of Information of the Republic of Indonesia/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
This lesson has no exercises.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax