Indonesia - Asia and Africa need to improve relations so they can better draw on the opportunities each regions offers, said a senior Indonesian official highlighting the upcoming summit between them.
"Africa is an opportunity," said Yuri Thamrin, the directorate general of Asia-Africa relations at the Indonesian Foreign Ministry.
Like Asia, it is home to many of the world's fastest growing economies and a rising middle class, he said, pointing to growth in two-way trade between the regions that jumped from $2.8 billion in 1990 to $270 billion by 2012.
Africa also faces many of the same challenges as Indonesia limited infrastructure and political corruption putting Indonesia in a prime position to take advantage of any enhanced engagement, said Mr. Thamrin.To do so, however, he said Southeast Asia's largest economy could learn from China's and India's success in building bilateral relations.
"We need to facilitate business between countries," said Mr. Thamrin, promoting measures such as credit support and reduce tariff barriers. "Now is the time to give a chance to Africa," he said.
The upcoming summit will mark the 60th anniversary of the Asia-Africa Conference, a gathering that laid the foundation for the non-aligned movement.
"It was also a clear signal by countries in Asia and Africa, that they weren't simply unempowered nations," said Dewi Forunta Anwar, the deputy for political affairs in the office of Vice President Jusuf Kalla.
In 1955, the conference was focused on peace, security and economic development at the time of the Cold War. Sixty years on, the world is very different, and many are asking whether the non-aligned movement still carries any relevance, said Ms. Anwar.
Asia is no longer wrought by conflict but has been recognized as an "engine of growth," she said. While Africa is no longer "a continent of mystery" but one developing very, very rapidly.
It's in that context that more than 100 world leaders will gather in Jakarta starting April 19 for five days of summitry. But unlike the original gathering, which included mostly Asian participants, this year's summit will be largely even.
"The world has shifted," said Gurjit Singh, the Indian Ambassador to Indonesia, "and we need to be ready." Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia Xie Feng also highlighted the growing role Asia and Africa are playing on the global stage, saying the regions were "drawing the world's attention."
That was an indication that its leaders needed to "actively participate" in the rule making in international finance and trade, said Mr. Feng. China is currently developing a new infrastructure bank that will be based in Beijing and is seen as as part of China's push to place itself at the center of Asia's development needs.
Mr. Feng also confirmed that Chinese President Xi Jinping would attend the Asia-Africa Conference. Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited China last month, where he signed several trade and investment deals. It was the second meeting between both men since Mr. Widodo became president last October.
"These intensive high-level visits are unprecedented," said Mr. Feng. "Relations are higher than ever before."
Of course, relations are not so rosy between Beijing and all countries in the region, several of which have run into conflicts with China in recent years over issues of maritime sovereignty. On Friday, Mr. Feng said China was willing to work with countries in the region to deepen relations but also said it was "essential to promote mutual trust" on issues of sovereignty.