Asia and Africa to work closely as partners

Leaders mark 50th anniversary of Bandung Conference with plan for strategic partnership.

LEADERS from Asia and Africa will endorse a plan to forge closer economic and political links when they sign a draft declaration this weekend.

The signing will take place during the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is hosting the summit, which opens today. Speaking of the need to improve the welfare of the people that make up 73 per cent of the world’s population, President Yudhoyono said: ‘At this summit, we will make up for five decades of lost opportunities.’

The two-day meeting will bring together some 60 heads of state who are among the representatives of close to 100 countries.

Some of the Asian leaders attending the summit are Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, China’s President Hu Jintao, Japan’s Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Premier Manmohan Singh of India.

South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki and Nigerian head Olusegun Obasanjo are among the African heads present.

Ministers have approved a plan that calls for a ‘new strategic partnership’ between the two continents. They have adopted several resolutions, including one addressing the dangers of tsunamis and earthquakes in the region.

The document also provides for greater trade and investment, more cooperation in fighting terrorism and poverty, and expresses support for proposed reforms within the United Nations, including a greater decision-making role for developing countries.

Dr Yudhoyono, speaking at a business conference ahead of the summit, noted: ‘We can have a bigger voice in the reform of multilateral institutions such as the UN, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation.’

He said that the partnership was riding on a number of favourable factors in both continents.

Asia continues to be a dynamic region with the steady integration of the economies. This is gathering pace through various initiatives such as Afta, and the first phase of a free trade agreement between China and Asean.

In Africa, economic reforms are increasingly being undertaken by different countries.

The Indonesian leader noted that trade between the two regions was still low. But he made clear that the figures were rising.

Between 1980 and last year, African exports to Asia increased from 4 to 15 per cent. Asean countries, China, Korea and India were also becoming important investors in Africa.

Dr Yudhoyono said one way to step up economic ties was to pool exports and imports through various ‘gateways’ into the respective regions. This included the potential for links between regional agreements in Asia such as Afta and Africa in the form of the Southern African Development Community.

‘We can radically alter the pattern of global trade and investment flows, making the Indian Ocean an exceptionally busy two-way street of economic cooperation,’ he said.

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