Friday, Nov. 22, 1963

How Goes the Colombo Plan?

In the Far East, where Communism threatens from Korea's 38th Parallel to the Himalayas, the first formal barrier erected against Red encroachment is a half-forgotten organization called the Colombo Plan. Originated in 1950 by a group of British Commonwealth nations meeting in the capital of Ceylon, the plan was designed as a loosely knit club in which industrial nations and needy Asian countries could negotiate bilateral aid agreements. The club has since grown from eleven to 20 members —frankly, if unofficially, referred to as six donors and 14 recipients.* Last week in Bangkok, at the organization's annual Consultative Committee conference, 300-odd delegates met to assess the plan's achievements to date.

Industry & Infants. Both economically and politically, the picture is mixed. All told, the donors have lent or given $13.8 billion worth of aid—with the U.S. supplying nine-tenths of the total, or nearly $12 billion. There have been some impressive results. In all recipient areas, new factories, hydroelectric plants and highways have sprouted. The recipients, sharing their own meager know-how, have trained 2,691 of one another's students in a technical exchange program. Industry has burgeoned in the plan's 13 years, is still expanding at a robust 8% annually—but in most of the recipient countries, it started almost from zero.

Although food output is increasing 3% per year, since 1950 the population of the recipient countries has increased by 170 million, or 2% annually, eating up two-thirds of the food gain. The people growth rate may top 2.5% in 1964. Conceded one Asian delegate: "Our problem is babies."

Insults & Invitations. Although it bills itself as nonpolitical, the Colombo club has strengthened some anti-Communist positions, but its ranks abound with "neutralists" and leftward-drifters. Indonesia, which stubbornly fights the new Federation of Malaysia, a Colombo partner, on the ground that it is a front for British "neocolonialism," used the Bangkok conference to snap insults at the new state. Cambodia's petulant, neutralist Prince Norodom Sihanouk boycotted the conference because of his antagonism to the host country, strongly anti-Communist Thailand; he also announced that he wanted no more U.S. aid, would kick out all U.S. military advisers by year's end (later, he started backpedaling).

Whatever its frustrations and contradictions, Colombo provides the West with a link of sorts to almost all of non-Communist Asia. The recipients need the money, no matter how neutral they would like to be. At week's end, the conference agreed to hire an expediter for the regional training program, admitted a 21st member (the Maldive Islands, a British protectorate southwest of India), and hinted that more donor nations would be welcome. Leading candidate for an invitation: West Germany.

* Donor nations: the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan. Recipients: Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, Ceylon, India, Indonesia, Lacs, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, South Viet Nam, Thailand.