THE Look East Policy (LEP) should continue to be one of the foundations of Malaysia’s development strategies and programme.
Former Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (picture) said the policy had proven to be a success since it was first introduced in February 1982 at the Fifth Joint Annual Conference of the Malaysia-Japan Economic Association.
“I was always asked why I chose to ‘look East’ and not West, a practice perceived to be the convention of Malaysia and my predecessors post-independent.
“By any measure, it would have been easier to look West given the colonial legacy that was pervasive in Malaysia, be it our administration, education, economic endeavours and social conditioning,” Dr Mahathir said in his keynote address at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Forum on the 40th Anniversary of LEP today.
However, he was aware that the West was then sliding as its industries were not as competitive due to work ethics and labour practices.
“They seem to suffer from a derailment from their progress, making them somewhat unappealing as model nations for an ambitious third world nation,” he noted.
The West was different from the East, mainly Japan — rising from the ashes of World War II, rebuilding from utter devastation and an economy that had been crippled and crumbled.
“Given its ability to rise from such destruction, surely Malaysia, which was not in such a tragic condition and in fact blessed with numerous natural resources, would be able to emulate such success,” he said.
He believed that Malaysia needed a policy shift and adopted nations that could be used as models to chart its progress and economic pursuits.
Apart from Japan’s impressive growth, Dr Mahathir was also taken up by the Japanese work ethic and national pride.
“To my mind, brilliant policies and effective programmes can only be fully realised and their objectives achieved if the executioners and support system has the right attitude and sense of responsibility.
“With such an attitude in everything they manufactured and produced, Japan was then associated with efficiency and quality, and it was only a matter of time they overtook the West,” he said.
Therefore, he foresees the best way to learn and emulate the Japanese work ethic is through education making it the heart of the policy.
To date, there were over 26,000 Malaysians sent to Japan under the LEP programme.
“Yet, the number of Malaysians sent to Japan today is a far cry from what it used to be. I believe we can and should do better,” he added.
He hoped that there would be a more comprehensive approach toward education under LEP, especially in the Japanese education system starting at the pre-school level to university.
On investment, Dr Mahathir said close to 1,500 Japanese companies are operating in Malaysia, employing over 400,000 Malaysians, including Matsushita Electric Industrial Co Ltd (now Panasonic Holdings Corp), Mitsui & Co Ltd, Toshiba Corp, Mitsubishi Motors Corp, AEON Co Ltd and Kao Corp.
“LEP has been instrumental to the industrialisation effort of Malaysia and contributed greatly towards the economic development of Malaysia as a whole,” he added.
Meanwhile, during Mahathir’s second tenure as PM, he said one of his key agendas was to ensure the revitalisation of LEP 2.0.
“The former Japanese PM and I had agreed to incorporate the elements of IR4.0 in new cooperative projects including in agrotechnology, automobile industry, disaster risk reduction and the environment,” he further said.
Moving forward, he saw that LEP can be a convenient platform to chart new possibilities and opportunities in addressing setbacks such as pandemics.