The Colombo Plan and 'soft' regionalism in the Asia-Pacific

9 August 2010

The Colombo Plan for aid to South and Southeast Asia, launched in 1951 and continuing today in much-diminished form, is regularly invoked in Australia and New Zealand as a pioneering and progressive project through which closer understanding and engagement with Asia was achieved. It is widely acknowledged that the economic value of the Colombo Plan for developing countries may not have been outstanding, but the author argues that Colombo Plan information activities bred a new form of public relations in the foreign relations of its member countries. Especially in donor countries such as Australia and New Zealand, it gave rise to public diplomacy that responded partly to competitive impulses relating to overseas images, and partly to the demands of a centralized information bureau and to regional meetings of a consultative committee. In short, Colombo Plan activities fostered a cultural relations or an early 'soft' form of regionalism in the 1950s and 1960s that has been insufficiently understood.

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