Nation Branding And TN50
Behind a country’s wealth and success are the policies that create possibilities, the people that drive the effort and the perspective or worldview that shapes the values.
For Malaysia, the history of post-independence national development began with the New Economic Policy (1971-1990) and followed by the Vision 2020 (1991-2020). In the next two years, the National Transformation 2050 or TN50 marks another milestone for the country’s development policy (2021-2050).
Malaysia, through TN50, is set to rise from being labelled a developing country to become the top nation of the world in terms of economy, citizen’s wellbeing and innovation achievement.
Specifically, TN50 aims for Malaysia to be ranked among the top 20 countries by virtue of economic development, social progress and innovation. This TN50 target reflects the aspirations of the Malaysians at present, particularly the youth generation between aged of 15 and 40 years.
It is believed that the world will be very different and more challenging in the year 2050. For example, the world’s population will reach 9.6 billion with one of every six people will be over 65 years old; an industrial revolution where computers will be thousand times better, cheaper and available everywhere; and a transformation in urban landscape whereby modern skyscrapers may come with internalised creation of food, water and other resources.
Perhaps it is timely for Malaysians to embrace the future with all the necessary skills and resources laid out in TN50 policy. It provides a sense of direction of where Malaysia will be heading and how people can contribute to the national agenda.
But the question is how should the nation be prepared to realise the country’s development goal in the next 30 years? What remain unclear are the qualities to be at the top 20, as well as the path of direction to pursue the TN50 goals.
In an era when money, influence and people could flow anywhere, a country or nation has to work harder to maintain the right talents, grow the businesses and attract the quality investments.
Hence the idea of branding a nation, which emerged in the 1990s, has grown to be a new business that produces various indices and metrics to rank the countries worldwide.
A nation branding is the practice of constructing and communicating a unique image about a specific country to the rest of the world through public diplomacy, trade, exports promotion and tourism.
In building a nation’s brand or identity, countries are participating in the world of ranking and may compete against each other just like any corporate or brands do. The goal is to develop a perceived unique identity even if it is a mixture of lies and illusions.
A nation branding strategy at international level is not a simple task. It is argued that at a national level, leaders can embrace political symbols that ignore daily reality and externalise domestic problems such as economic hardship.
However it is hard for the governments or businesses to manipulate foreign audiences as the narratives are more transparent and is subject to public scrutiny.
Simon Anholt, the founder of Good Country Index, criticised the consequence of nation branding considering that countries need to perform as if they were products in a marketplace.
According to Anholt, nation branding “encourages so many countries, who really can’t afford it, to blow wicked amounts of money on futile propaganda programs, and the only people who benefit are these beastly PR agencies.”
Just imagine of how branding, an ancient practice to differentiate livestock, has evolved into branding all types of products, places and services worldwide. It is even applied nowadays as a form of social engineering by branding a nation.
Nevertheless, a nation branding can be a powerful tool to move the social agenda if it is genuinely and properly implemented. It works like a scorecard for the country leaders to measure and monitor the performance of their countries globally.
For TN50, the discussions have been focused on bringing Malaysia as the top 20 countries by 2050. The tricky part is to appear to be unique and distinctive, yet a successful nation as measured by universal value indicators.
The global economy has proven that nation branding can be profoundly malicious. The impact can alter the meaning of place, the fabric of society and its collective identity.
In the spirit of achieving TN50, the nation ought not to be ranked like Coca-Cola or Nestle or any other corporate brands. The national identity need to be constructed with a sense of real heritage, authentic values along with science and economic advancement. ‘Malaysia, Truly Asia’ in this case, augurs well in defining the essence of the country’s unique diversity of culture and traditions. In addition, of course, the Maqasid al-Shariah (Islamic objectives) shall remains in place, which means everyone has their own right to co-exist in peace.