Rt Hon Helen Clark
Address at the launch of
The Colombo Plan at 50: A New Zealand Perspective
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade,
Tuesday, 27 November 2001
I am pleased to be able to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Colombo Plan by launching this publication on New
Zealand’s involvement with the Plan.
The Colombo Plan at 50: A New Zealand Perspective sets out New Zealand’s early engagement with and contribution to the
development of some of the emerging independent countries of Asia in the early post war era, and puts our Overseas
Development Assistance programme and its evolution in its historical context.
New Zealand is proud to have been a founding member of the Colombo Plan. It was initiated at the Commonwealth Foreign
Ministers’ Conference in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in January 1950.
That conference formulated the Asian economic and social development programme which, in the following year, would come
into being as the Colombo Plan. It was attended by the then New Zealand Foreign Minister, Frederick W Doidge, along with
representatives from Ceylon, Canada, and United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Australia and South Africa.
Those were momentous but uncertain days. The Marshall Plan had begun to restore economic stability to western Europe
after the Second World War, decolonisation in Asia was proceeding apace, the superpower conflict was in its infancy, and
the People’s Republic of China had just come into being.
The Colombo Plan was initially envisaged as fulfilling a short-term need in this turbulent period, yet, remarkably, it
still prospers. It has been able to substantially increase its membership, overcome periods of uncertainty when it
seemed there was no way forward, and reposition itself to retain its relevance.
New Zealand played an active role in the Plan from its founding until the 1980s. Thereafter, the education and training
work we supported became integrated into the work of our official bilateral aid programmes.
In those thirty or more years, the Colombo Plan brought hundreds of people from throughout South, North, and Southeast
Asia to our country for advanced training in a wide range of subjects. In turn, the students who came played a big part
in introducing New Zealanders to Asian faces, accents, culture, and cuisine.
The first students to come to New Zealand under the Colombo Plan were six dental nurse trainees from Ceylon – featured
on the cover of the publication – who in those times made a striking appearance in their colourful saris.
Some former students, including some of our guests here today, have stayed and made New Zealand their home.
New Zealanders also went to Asia under the Plan – at a time when fewer people travelled overseas – to share their
expertise and knowledge with developing countries, and we also have some of those people here with us today.
The Colombo Plan helped create links which today we take for granted. It helped bring an awareness that New Zealanders
and the peoples of Asia are neighbours, and that we have many common interests. It has cultivated friendship,
co-operation, and partnerships which would otherwise not have been possible.
It is in part because of the Colombo Plan that our relationships with the nations of Asia are now more mature and
broadly based. It is important that New Zealanders, particularly those of the generation which accepts close links with
Asia as a fact of life, know something of these earlier connections.
New Zealand continues to support the Colombo Plan’s objectives. This publication conveys the vision of those people who
gave the Plan life, and the remarkable degree to which the Plan has met – and exceeded – their expectations.
It is also a story about those remarkable New Zealanders who gave their time and knowledge through the Colombo Plan to
improve the lives of others. That continues today through the NZODA supported programmes in Asia and through agencies
such as the VSA – from East Timor to Afghanistan. It continues also through the English language training programme at
Victoria University, provided originally for Colombo Plan students and now for officials from the Mekong Region.
Against this background I want to express my appreciation to the many people who have contributed to the production of
The Colombo Plan at 50 and to launch it officially.