Webinar on “Where is the Future? Geographies of Malaysia’s Vision 2020”

In this webinar, Prof Tim Bunnell reviews Malaysia’s Vision 2020 and delves into the geographies of Vision 2020 as a political mode of future-making.


Wednesday, 16 December 2020 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute invited Prof Tim Bunnell to deliver a webinar titled “Where is the Future? Geographies of Malaysia’s Vision 2020”. Prof Bunnell is Professor in the Department of Geography at the National University of Singapore (NUS), and Director of the Asia Research Institute at NUS. His research areas concern the transformation of urban regions, and the aspirations of people within those territories. He has published numerous books including Malaysia, Modernity and Multimedia Super Corridor and From World City to the World in One City: Liverpool through Malay Lives. 

Prof Tim Bunnell
Prof Tim Bunnell opined that Vision 2020 is intricately tied to Mahathir Mohamad. Dr Lee Hwok Aun moderated the session. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Prof Bunnell began his lecture with an overview of Mahathir Mohamad’s political ideas during the late 1980s. Vision 2020 was first brought to the public attention by then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir in 1991, as a replacement for New Economic Policy (NEP) which expired in 1990. Prof Bunnell opined that Vision 2020 is intricately tied to Mahathir, with the latter serving as Vision 2020’s chief architect and proponent. Vision 2020 contained paradoxical ideals as it envisioned a utopian future for Malaysia according to the country’s unique characteristics, while simultaneously drawing geographical references from other places. The main ideological building blocks of Vision 2020 are private sector-led economic growth, a multiracial “Bangsa Malaysia” and Malaysia Inc. Prof Bunnell highlighted that mega-projects were developed for visual imagery effects that Malaysia has arrived at the utopian destination, with Petronas Twin Towers, Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) and Putrajaya being the prime examples. However, the reliance on mega-projects for Vision 2020 also led to spatial contradiction since most developments concentrated in Kuala Lumpur without similar developments in other regions in Malaysia. Despite the apparent paradox of Vision 2020, the masterplan gained significant traction among Malaysians during Mahathir’s first tenure in office.

Prof Bunnell argued that Vision 2020 took a backseat from the public sphere after Mahathir stepped down as Prime Minister in 2003. Abdullah Badawi, Mahathir’s immediate successor, was less enthusiastic to implement the goals of Vision 2020 – in particular mega-projects – and sought to recalibrate the nation’s objective to develop agricultural smallholders. “Mahathirism” once again found favour as Najib Razak took over premiership from Abdullah Badawi in 2009. Under Najib, transformative urban mega-projects including Exchange 106 and Bandar Malaysia were implemented with the influx of Chinese investments. During the same period, National Transformation 2050 (TN2050) was launched which cumulated in the Expo Negaraku 2017 exhibition. Despite technological and economic advances, TN2050 incorporated much of the familiar ingredients of Vision 2020 including the preference for mega skyscrapers and large-scale infrastructural developments. Nonetheless, the conceptualisation of TN50 meant that Vision 2020 was no longer the sole roadmap for Malaysia and the former gradually assumed centre stage of official discourse.

Prof Bunnell concluded his presentation on how Vision 2020 is perceived by Malaysians in the present context – the year which Vision 2020 is supposedly fulfilled. He argued that Vision 2020 is generally regarded as an unrealised dream among the non-Malays, as the ideal of a developed country remains distant.

During the question-and-answer session, participants raised topics concerning the MSC, state level implementation of Vision 2020 and the actual utility of Vision 2020. The webinar attracted 50 participants from Singapore and abroad.

Over 50 participants attended the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)