National branding through Singapore Armed Forces (SAF)

National branding through Singapore Armed Forces (SAF)

The SAF’s role in public diplomacy is enshrined in its mission which is “to enhance Singapore’s peace and security through deterrence and diplomacy, and should these fail, to secure a swift and decisive victory over the aggressor.“


In the 21st century security landscape, there is increasing clarity that military coercion and war are not the only means to  policy objectives. In the context of smart power, planned national branding is clearly one of those endeavours that require multi-agency collaboration. Whilst it is presumptuous to assume that the military should lead such an effort, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) which runs the country’s most extensive nation building effort of National Service (NS) is clearly one of the leads in the whole-of-government approach to national branding.

But indeed, what is the definition of ‘National branding’ ? This term defines the aims to measure, build and manage the reputation of countries. Some approaches applied, such as an increasing importance on the symbolic value of products, have led countries to emphasise their distinctive characteristics. Many governments have resource dedicated to Nation Branding. Their aim is to improve their country’s standing, as the image and reputation of a nation can dramatically influence its success in attracting tourism receipts and investment capital- in exports, and in attracting a talented and creative workforce and in its cultural and political influence in the world.

Whether people consider Singapore’s image as a schema or an imagination, the fact remains that this image in the eyes of the foreign publics is being shaped daily by various national branding flows. Therefore, SAF’s strategic level leaders need to continuously check that their visions for the armed forces or a national event reflects a country that is socially, economically, psychologically and militarily strong to reinforce deterrence. SAF’s unit commanders at the organisational level of leadership needs to create units with a learning climate that can adapt to shifting perceptions about Singapore. At the broadest base of the SAF, the last mile leaders need to live Singaporean’s values and be ambassadors of the Singaporean national identity thereby adding positive national branding flows to the public sphere and new media each day to offset the negative ones. Ultimately, national branding for Singapore is not an option. Not only has it been a key part of their success but in a globalised world saturated with moving images, branding Singapore is an integral part of nation building and of survival. As the nation building institution that could mobilise the most national branding ambassadors, the SAF plays a critical role in portraying the national image of Singapore.


3 Comments on “National branding through Singapore Armed Forces (SAF)

  1. I like how you phrased your headline. It is so catchy that I recalled some of the headline I have read before.

    ” Not only has it been a key part of their success but in a globalised world saturated with moving images, branding Singapore is an integral part of nation building and of survival. As the nation building institution that could mobilise the most national branding ambassadors, the SAF plays a critical role in portraying the national image of Singapore.” — I wondered, so what’s Hong Kong’s?

    Hong Kong was always compared to Singapore side by side. These two cities are once two of the 4 Asian Dragons. While some says Singapore is now ahead of Hong Kong already, I think that they are still very different from each other because of the government and politics.

    The image of Singapore in me is people are mostly happy and welcome proposals from the government. While in development projects, the Government is so strong that they will just go-ahead. I did not mean that they ignore all the feedback or comments by their people, it is just, the government think the advantage still outweighs the disadvantage, therefore a project should move forward. Okay, time passes, effort can be seen. Work from urban planning to economic development scheme, all the way to housing and education policies, it can be seen that everything is going positive — however Singapore does not have the political freedom that Hong Kong has.

    For Hong Kong, it has freedom — okay you can say that according to what happened in 2014, all those actions in the umbrella revolution tells it does not really have, the truth is that, although Hong Kong is/was under serious threat, it still has more freedom than Singapore and other Mainland cities which are of similar position in terms of economic development.

    I sometimes wonder, what should be the ideal position of the Government. To what extent it should be strong and when would it has to take words from their people. I once wondered, if the Government could stand stronger, the railway which links to China could have been completed already. If the Government would like to push and stick with ideas in gentrifying the old communities, or simply preserving some old buildings, promoting conservation, projects like Conserving Central could have run in a more effective and efficient ways. Taking “Conserving Central” as an example, out of the 10-something projects, PMQ was completed in 2-3 years however others has no update at all. It seems that the governors who raise the idea, propose the details, run the project are all different people already.

    Is it about the Government standing not strong enough that they did not pushed but stop whenever there are voice of object? Or, even further more — according to some foreigner architect like Zaha Hadid (mentioned when she was working in The Peak Project, 1991) and Shigeru Ban (mentioned when he was working in the M+ Design Competition, 2013), that Hong Kong is a chaotic that lack of planning — extending the description of architectural order in Hong Kong to its cultural, or even political order? — would Hong Kong’s “national branding” be chaotic?

    I am sorry if my comment sounded too offensive.

    • Thank you for your comments Judy and Ryan.
      First off, I do agree with your points- Hong Kong and Singapore are indeed similar in several ways. Both having establishing themselves as leading international financial centres in Asia as well as offshore renminbi centres. However in terms of their governments ,Hong Kong’s idea of government is based on the principle of positive non-interventionism, which gives impetus to the creativity of individuals and the private sector. Singapore is exactly the opposite in this regard.
      First off, while Hong Kong is a special administrative region operating under the purview of a central government, it nonetheless retains substantial policy autonomy. More importantly, it has a highly liberal political and cultural environment where residents enjoy strong freedom of speech, contributing to the city’s political discourse.
      In contrast, Singapore’s political system has often been described as a “hybrid” of soft authoritarianism and procedural democracy. While citizens are able to take part in free and fair elections, the state sets limits on public discourse, particularly on race or religion. However, Singapore’s 2011 general election saw a gradual politicisation of its population and a shift towards a more liberal political environment, as citizens became more vocal and opposition parties gained prominence (and votes).
      Nonetheless, it is safe to say Singapore’s governance model remains more state-centric. The real edge Singapore may have over Hong Kong is its status as an independent nation. This difference is becoming more evident as Beijing appears bent on tightening its grasp on the special administrative region. Singapore is free from the ambiguities of the “one country, two systems” arrangement, while Hong Kong officials have to spare time to deal with the complexities in the SAR’s relationship with the Chinese government.
      The scope of power of the Singapore government is much broader and clearer, and this has allowed the nation’s leaders to formulate pertinent policies and ensure speedy implementation. Unlike Hong Kong, Singapore can promptly respond to challenges and grab opportunities without having to worry about what Beijing will say. Also, because of its sovereignty, Singapore has complete say on its international relations; it’s no secret that the city state is a close ally of the United States in the region.
      While Singapore can swiftly rezone some of its military areas to pave the way for Changi Airport expansion, Hong Kong cannot even allocate the People’s Liberation Army barracks near Hung Hom for the use of the Polytechnic University, which is facing a worsening land shortage problem, because officials are hesitant to offend Beijing.
      There’s probably some basis for such fears, but amid the din of politics, Hong Kong remains a vibrant economy. As you have mentioned Hong Kong to be very ‘chaotic’, even myself living and growing up here, I would say it is indeed a very vivid and buzzling city. The term ‘chaotic’ would mean in a state of complete confusion and disorder; And sadly to agree the ‘national branding’ might as well be ‘Chaotic’ in the recent years- Hong Kong with the power under China, all those political issues. In addition, I would say there’s a tendency among some of Hong Kong’s media, when they feel the urge to lash out at government policies they don’t like, showing it all to the public. Just like how students and others amongst our city stood up for the Umbrella revolution, where it may lead to some bias opinions, whether opposing or the latter. All in all, Hong Kong people are very dynamic, that continues to drive Hong Kong, and there is every reason to be optimistic about Hong Kong – the drive, the dynamism and the quality of the people- We shouldn’t give up on what we believe Hong Kong is as a city itself, and that’s what makes it different from China and other cities around the world.

  2. I agree with Judy in her previous comment, it is indeed very interesting to see the comparison of both national identity of Hong Kong and Singapore, both growing and highly dense cities of Asia. However in my point of view, there is clearly some differences between the two cities, Singapore uses military for national branding, whilst Hong Kong does not have military- Maybe that is what states the differences for the two because through the military, it is where the younger generation (Singapore in this case) has been forced to serve their country, and hence having them grow on the culture of Singapore’s national identity.

    (Its alright she won’t be offended she is not Singaporean lol)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.