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History of the Colombo Plan
A history of the Colombo Plan by Daniel Oakman called Facing Asia: A history of the Colombo Plan is now available from ANU-epress: http://epress.anu.edu.au/facing_asia_citation.html
'No nation can escape its geography', warned Percy Spender, Australia's Minister for External Affairs, in 1950. With the immediate turmoil of WWII over, communism and decolonisation had ended any possibility that Asia could continue to be ignored by Australia. In the early 1950s, Australia embarked on its most ambitious attempt to engage with Asia: The Colombo Plan.
This book examines the public and private agendas behind Australia's foreign aid diplomacy and reveals the strategic, political and cultural aims that drove the Colombo Plan. It examines the legacy of WWII, how foreign aid was seen as crucial to achieving regional security, how the plan was sold to Australian and Asian audiences, and the changing nature of Australia's relationship with Britain and the United States. Above all this is the question of how Australia sought to project itself into the region, and how Asia was introduced into the Australian consciousness. In answering these questions, this book tells the story of how an insular society, deeply scarred by the turbulence of war, chose to face its regional future.
Shortlisted for the 2005 NSW Premier's History Awards. State Records NSW - John and Patricia Ward History Prize ($15,000) Citation below:
The Colombo Plan is the world's longest-running bi-lateral aid programme. Devised in the 1950s as part of the British Commonwealth's campaign against the spread of communism in Asia, it came to symbolise the Asian students who were arriving in increasing numbers to study at Australian universities. Many of the students were in fact privately funded or sponsored, but all probably benefited from the Department of External Affairs' administration of the Colombo Plan. For the Department was determined that the time Colombo Plan students spent in Australia should be both positive and productive. Daniel Oakman's book details the history of the Plan from its conception. He demonstrates its strategic, economic and cultural reach, while analysing both its effectiveness and Australia's very mixed intentions at the time.
Oakman shows that the Colombo Plan was used as much to promote Australia in Asia, as to assist Asian economic development or help Australians to understand Asia. His perspective on Australian foreign policy in the immediate post-World War II period adds a new dimension to post-colonialism and European retreat, and offers an opportunity to re-evaluate the work especially of Percy Spender who was Minister for External Affairs when the plan was first conceived, and Richard Casey who actively pushed it along.
The book is based on a close reading of Australian official sources, a sampling of external sources, and some oral interviews with bureaucrats and politicians involved, as well as a study of their private papers. Oakman's use of correspondence by and about the students in Australia, interviews, and press reports of their experiences shows the extreme care taken by the authorities not to challenge the prevailing white Australia policy by discouraging any disruptive behaviour among the students. One of the unintended consequences of the hospitality and friendship offered to Colombo Plan students was that occasionally students fell in love with Australians and decided to marry, raising official difficulties, some of which are recounted here.
Oakman has managed to transform what at first sight might seem a rather dry subject into one of considerable insight into the history of the white Australia policy and Australian attitudes to Asia.