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REFORMS: Emphasis should be given to strengthen Malaysia's reputation as a democratic, moderate and dynamic country
JUST about anything that a country wants to do has to take soft power into consideration these days. What is meant by soft power, at least from the perspective of Joseph Nye, a professor of government at Harvard University, is the ability to influence others into accepting your value or way, short of using coercion or corruption to bring about that outcome.
However, contrary to his effusive promotion of the concept, Nye admits the limitations and shortcomings too, especially in the context of what the United States wants to achieve globally.
Hence, together with Richard Armitage, a former Vietnam veteran, Nye has chaired the commission on smart power, which involves the combination of hard, hence, military, power with soft power.
This alone suggests that soft power does not possess the full spectrum of resources, both cultural and otherwise, to produce a favourable outcome. This brings us to a conundrum that is hardly contemplated by most nation-states that are enthralled by the concept of soft power: how does a country promote itself to others when its very promotion is beset with potential problems? In the case of Malaysia, there are three issues that the country's leadership will confront.
First of all, soft power is only as strong as the weakest chain. While the campaign "Malaysia Truly Asia", for example, has put us in good light, at least from the standpoint of tourist attractiveness, there is no end to the number of incidents that will damage Malaysia too.
Numerous cases of abusing maids, for example, have put us in bad light, especially when the crimes are perpetrated against fellow Asians. Hence, domestic incidents can go a long way towards weakening the Malaysian appeal abroad.
Second, soft power seeks to project what Max Weber, a classical sociologist, would refer to as an "ideal type". In other words, a concept or a brand that exists only in the most ideal or flawless form.
Yet, we all know no country can meet this threshold. Norway, for example, is regularly rated as one of the most outstanding countries by the United Nations.
This is true in terms of the depth of its human development, social provision and gender fairness. But in spite of it all, Norway is also confronting the emergence of the far right, as marked by the murderous spree of Anders Breivik, who is now on trial for killing 77 people in Oslo last year.
Thirdly, soft power needs constant replenishment. Barring
constant flow of domestic reforms, invariably to seek economic equity, gender fairness, inclusive human rights regime, and peaceful outreach to foes and neighbours alike, cynics are bound to put a dent in whatever brand Malaysia seeks to promote.
To transform Malaysia as one of the leading countries in Asean, especially in the realisation of the Asean Security, Economic and Social Cultural Community by 2015, emphasis should be given to strengthening Malaysia's reputation as a democratic, moderate and dynamic country. This has to be done through the use of soft power.
But how far and how fast Malaysia achieves this soft power depends on a steady stream of reforms, whether induced by itself or the dictates of globalisation.