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To gain recognition as a country possessing an impactful nation branding and cultural diplomacy like Japan and South Korea, Malaysia needs to go beyond batik and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). -- NSTP Archive

WITH its sight set on ensuring a successful Visit Malaysia Year 2020, the government has been working hard to ensure the message is spread around the world through cultural diplomacy.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has had a full calendar of visits, and international and regional meetings since September.

They include the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Baku, Azerbaijan, last month and the Asean and Related Summits in Bangkok, Thailand, recently.

Cultural diplomacy is the most efficient way to score winning points to repel the bad publicity thrown at the country lately.

As an example, our palm oil has been making the news once again, and Dr Mahathir’s comments on several international and bilateral issues considered “critical” by the countries concerned have once again attracted a fair amount of bad media attention locally and abroad.

Most recently in Norway, five Malaysian children were separated by the authorities from their parents on accusation of child abuse.

Through cultural diplomacy, the government is hoping that negative perceptions of the country and its people could be reduced and managed.

It is within this context that I would like to commend the Foreign Ministry for organising, through its Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations, a training programme on cultural diplomacy.

In a recent programme, I addressed the 15 participants from different countries on nation branding and cultural diplomacy. Why the topic?

Malaysia has been at the forefront of international efforts to bring developing countries together to provide a “strategic reframing” of values and cultures to assist these countries to thrive in nation branding and cultural diplomacy.

Such a “strategic reframing” can be achieved by considering several factors.

OLD AND NEW DIPLOMACY

Today, there is a noticeable change in the conduct of diplomacy between countries.

Distinctly, this has to do with the difference in the practice of the old and the new diplomacy.

The former thrives on staying on with norms and precedents. There is neither experimentation nor exit. The latter emphasises novelty and naivete.

There is room for being unconventional. But there is space for manoeuvrability.

VALUES AND CULTURES

The essence of a successful nation branding exercise is that it should be visible, different and relevant.

The elements to be considered are those tied to the values and cultures in the country.

While values are more subjective, cultures tend to be more objective, and are visible and closer to the senses. The latter includes what we see, touch and taste like architecture, tradition, food and shopping.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

A country embarking on
nation branding and cultural diplomacy has to, firstly, assess and rank its internal strengths and weaknesses against the impact of external opportunities and threats.

The factors that will come into play include history, geography, economics, culture, security, media, technology, education and science.

To gain recognition as a country possessing an impactful nation branding and cultural diplomacy like Japan and South Korea, Malaysia needs to go beyond batik and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

DR AZHARI-KARIM

Kuala Lumpur

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