Crossing the frontier : Australia, Asia and the Colombo Plan, 1950-1965




Oakman, Daniel

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The Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic Development of South and Southeast Asia developed out of a meeting of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers in Ceylon, January 1950. To date, few scholars have examined the Colombo Plan in any significant detail and most assessments focus on the development of educational links between Australia and Asia, largely because of the significant numbers of scholars who came to Australia under the scheme. This thesis explores the Colombo Plan from a variety of perspectives, focusing on the economic, political, social and strategic context surrounding the emergence and implementation of the program between 1950 and 1965. This thesis argues that the Colombo Plan had a much broader political and cultural agenda, and cannot be understood from a humanitarian perspective alone. The Colombo Plan was an attempt to counter communist expansion in the newly independent nations of Southeast Asia by raising living standards and thus removing the conditions considered likely to create popular sympathy for communist forces. More significantly, the Colombo Plan, with its modernist assumptions about the importance of development, technology and social progress, was to be a vehicle for the transmission of Western values. By exploring the cultural, ideological and political underpinnings of the Colombo Plan, this thesis illustrates that the plan was an important part of Australian foreign policy, and was motivated by international security priorities and the need to allay domestic cultural concerns. One of the important ways Australia expressed and promoted its political and economic interests in the Asian region was through the Colombo Plan. This scheme functioned as a humanitarian program intended to improve the living conditions in Asian countries, however, it also operated as ‘unspoken propaganda’ designed to improve trade relations, establish diplomatic and cultural contacts, and help deflect criticism of the White Australia Policy. This examination of the Colombo Plan reveals the changing nature of Australia’s regional identity and the nature of its engagement with Asia during the 1950s and early 1960s.






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