Asian, African ministers to boost regional economic ties

Asian and African ministers are expected to focus on boosting economic cooperation between their mostly poor countries when they meet in the Indonesian town of Bandung on Tuesday.

The two-day meeting will have a nostalgic flavor for many of the 36 countries attending. Most participated in the first Asian-African conference in Bandung on April 8, 1955, which led to the birth of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The Non-Aligned Movement, which groups 116 mainly developing countries, holds regular summits to coordinate policy on political and economic issues concerning the Third World.

Indonesia—which has always been one of the most active members of the Non-Aligned Movement—is hoping this week’s meeting will help revitalise ties between the two continents in the run-up to a summit in Bandung in 2005 marking the 50th anniversary of the inaugural conference.

“We need strong foundations for these two continents to work together,” Indonesian Foreign Minster Hassan Wirayuda told reporters on Monday.
“We hope to develop real cooperation in the economic, trade, business and investment spheres.”

South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Myanmar Foreign Minster Win Aung are among 34 senior ministers attending the meeting, officials said.

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri is to open the meeting on Tuesday.

Megawati has personal reasons for supporting the group. Her father, Indonesia’s founding president, Sukarno, hosted the 1955 meeting and became a key supporter.

Win Aung is likely to be dogged—by reporters at least—by questions over the continued detention of Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Wirayuda said that delegates were not scheduled to discuss Suu Kyi or urge her release, as did ministers at last week’s Asia-Europe foreign ministers’ meeting on the resort island of Bali.

However, ministers from the Association of South-east Asian Nations may meet to discuss the issue informally, he said.

Asia and Africa are home to more than 100 countries, including some of the world’s poorest, and some 4,3-billion people. Indonesia is still struggling with the aftereffects of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, which devastated the country’s economy and pushed millions below the poverty line.

The continents also share a slew of other concerns, among them overpopulation, political instability, corruption, and their relations with wealthy Western countries and international financial organisations.

Critics, however, questioned the need for this week’s meeting, saying boosting ties with Africa had little strategic importance for Indonesia.

“The world has changed,” said Kusnanto Anggoro from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

“When resources are limited you should focus on your own neck of the woods.” - Sapa-AP

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