226 Minute from Arnott to Casey
Canberra, 19 March 1952
Attitude of Participants in Colombo Plan
Recently we asked our missions to report on the attitudes of the Colombo Plan recipient countries towards the Plan. It will be seen from the following summary of replies that the reactions have varied. In most cases, general popular appreciation and understanding of the Colombo Plan have so far been limited. This is to be expected, given the rather technical nature of the enterprise and the fact that it will be a long time before the individual Asian begins to see any direct benefit from international aid, whether under the Colombo Plan, United States programmes, or any similar arrangement. The extent of external assistance will always be relatively small in relation to the resources and production of the countries themselves. The contributors would be unwise to expect any quick response in terms of public understanding and appreciation. The objects of international assistance programmes in Asia will be largely served if they strengthen the hands of the Governments of these countries in counteracting popular discontent and the appeal of Communist propaganda.
At the same time, we should hope for some occasional public recognition by the Governments of the assistance being received from Australia and other contributors. Surveys made by our missions suggest that, in this respect, the attitude of the Indian Government is disappointing. You may find the opportunity of making known to the Indian delegation at Karachi that some occasional recognition of the usefulness of the Colombo Plan would be an encouragement to the Australian people to continue to support it. This is clearly a matter which requires cautious handling. The Indians have not withheld public commendation from the Colombo Plan any more than from any other international programmes. The general Indian outlook seems to be founded on the assumption that the Indian people deserve the support of the rest of the world.
SUMMARIES OF REPORTS FROM POSTS
Because the Plan has been slow to get under weigh [sic] and because even when it does the beneficial results will not be immediately apparent, the Plan has small publicity value from the journalists' point of view.
The Indian Government seem to feel that there is no call for them to express undue appreciation for the receipt of assistance from the Western countries; it is after all our duty to do something to help them.
Tangible things make a greater impact in the Indian mind than such things as the training of students in foreign countries. Gifts of wheat and technical equipment have a publicity value–they can be photographed. The successful tackling of specific substantial projects would receive much greater general publicity, hence appreciation, than a slow trickle of technical aids, however much more really useful the latter might be in the long term.
The publicity and enthusiasm noted in Pakistan is in marked contrast to the position in India. There is a greater consciousness that the Pakistanis are on their own. They have to choose between strength through leadership of the Arab bloc or progress and security through alliance with the Western democracies which means continued membership of the Commonwealth. The latter is the choice of the moderate and dominant body of opinion in the Government however much for political reasons they have to flap the Arab flag.
However that line requires for its sustenance the active support of the Commonwealth (and all the Western democracies) and for that reason Pakistan is increasingly anxious (as distinct from restive) that they have soon something to show as a tangible proof of the wisdom of the line they are taking.
While we cannot hope that the Plan will be understood and appreciated by the bulk of the population (92% are peasant villagers) the influential section, in particular the officials, has been reached and the reactions have been most favourable.
Although the Thai Government are fully appreciative of the Plan it is unlikely that they will be in a position to participate fully in it because their own resources are fully taxed in coping with developmental projects sponsored by other international agencies.
For the time being Colombo Plan help to them must probably be confined to the training of students in specialised fields and gifts of equipment.
The Philippines Government's attitude seems to be one of indifference and the Plan has received very little publicity.
It is doubtful whether it would be worthwhile to persuade them formally to participate. At the present time they are receiving considerable assistance under the E.C.A. and U.N. programmes and this is about as much as they can handle.
It is considered, however, that the award of scholarships and the provision of other training facilities in Australia is the most useful form of help we can give and such action is the best method of earning goodwill.
British South East Asian Territories
The attitude of these Governments is difficult to assess. Assistance to them so far has been limited to the award of scholarships and fellowships.
Publicity prior to the Plan has been meagre and sporadic. Singapore papers have been even less interested.
The Malaya and North Borneo Governments have been most appreciative of the assistance already provided. But in order to sustain enthusiasm it is suggested that a small number of projects should be undertaken speedily.
There is a field for the publication of human interest stories dealing with students training in Australia.