Monday, Jan. 10, 1955

Half of Humanity

While a herd of spotted mouse deer grazed under the banyan trees nearby, five men who speak for nearly a fourth of the people in the world gathered inside an old palace in the Indonesian resort town of Bogor last week. The Prime Ministers of India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma and Indonesia—the so-called Colombo Powers—came together to plan history's first political conference of the nations of Africa and Asia. Questions to be settled were: where, when, why and whom to invite.

With an odd mixture of pomp and impatience, the five Prime Ministers engaged themselves in housekeeping details that for the most part could have been arranged by underlings. India's Jawaharlal Nehru, his mischievous foreign-policy missionary, Krishna Menon, and the rest of the Indian delegation were openly contemptuous of the inept way their inexperienced Indonesian hosts had prepared for the meeting. "We sent some people down here in advance to try and help these beggars," said one Indian, "but they haven't got a clue, not a clue!" Invitations. The five Prime Ministers briskly agreed on date and place (Indonesia in April). As an indication of the kind of discussions that might be held, they unanimously condemned, at Nehru's suggestion, atomic and hydrogen experiments and asked that they be stopped.

They endorsed Indonesia's attempt to grab Dutch New Guinea, endorsed the independence movement of Tunisia's and Morocco's nationalists, and pointedly emphasized that the conference will concentrate on "problems affecting national sovereignty, and of racialism and colonialism," all subjects loaded with feelings of animosity toward the West. Nehru also suggested that the theme of "peaceful coexistence" should go onto the agenda,* but his four colleagues persuaded him to drop that one. The purpose of the conference, the five agreed, will be "to further the course of world peace."

The ticklish question of invitations was saved until almost the end. Burma's Premier U Nu suggested that Israel be included, but Pakistan's Mohammed AH objected on behalf of the Moslem states, and Israel was excluded. The white-supremacy government of South Africa was not even discussed. ("We can't go there, so why the hell should we invite them here," explained Ceylon's Sir John Kotelawala.) North and South Viet Nam were invited; South and North Korea were not. Indonesia's Ali Sastroamidjojo proposed Japan, a surprising suggestion from a nation that still remembers the Japanese conquest of the East Indies. But Japan's invitation was designed to balance off another.

"We, For Instance." U Nu, filled with notions of mediating between Communism and the West, proposed Communist China. "If we invite China," cautioned Pakistan's firmly anti-Communist Ali, "some other countries may not come."

"But if we do not," replied U Nu, "there will still be countries who will not attend."

"Who, for instance?" asked Ali.

"We, for instance," said U Nu.

Red China was added to the list. Then someone mentioned the Nationalists on Formosa. "If Formosa is invited," U Nu snapped, "we will leave this conference right now." Formosa was not invited. The final list contained 30 countries.

Western diplomats had been inclined to dismiss talk of an Afro-Asian conference as little more than a frisky showing-off by the young governments of the world's recently freed colonial areas. But when they read the Prime Ministers' statement of principles, the agenda and the guest list, they began to worry. Still more mistrustful of a colonialism that is past than of a growing threat of Communism, filled with imagined and real grievances against the white man, most of the governments of Africa and Asia are vulnerable for exploitation. Western officials began to shudder at the harm that might be done once such a deft and ruthless professional as Red China's Chou En-lai gets to maneuvering the inexperienced, the emotional and the naive among the men who represent more than half of humanity.

*Nehru recently delivered a more private attitude toward peace to a closed political meeting. There is "absolutely no chance," he said, that India will go to war against any nation, with the possible exceptions of Pakistan, Portugal and South Africa.