The Look East Policy


1. I was in Tokyo recently to participate in the celebration of the 30th year of the Look East Policy. Some 15,000 young Malaysians were educated or trained in Japan during those years. Strangely I have not heard anyone of them complain about the policy or their participation. They all seem to be happy with their experience under the Look East Policy.

2. There must be at least a few who may not be happy. But I have not met them.

3. They all seem to be employed and a few have started their own businesses in Malaysia or in Japan. Some are married to Japanese girls.

4. I would like to claim that the Look East Policy was good for Malaysia. Those trained under the programme seem to have imbibed some Japanese characters and values. Actually the Look East Policy was not so much about getting Japanese investments or technologies as it was about learning Japanese work ethics and the discipline of the work place. I believe strongly that the success or otherwise of a person, a race or a nation is dependent on their values, their work ethics and their discipline when doing whatever they have to do.

5. In 1961 when I went to Japan for the first time I observed their diligence and dedication in the work of rebuilding their nation. It was already 16 years after the near-total destruction of their country but there was hardly any trace of it. Everywhere I saw people busily constructing new buildings, everywhere I saw cement-mixer trucks being driven to worksites and back to the mixing plants.

6. I did not see any foreign cars but their cars did not look so good. What struck me most was their behaviour when there was a collision. The drivers came out, bowed to each other and then drove off. What happened after that I do not know.

7. Hotel workers did not accept tips but their service cannot be faulted. Japanese hotel staff, including managers, line up to welcome me upon arrival and to wave goodbye when I leave even after I cease to be the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

8. I was familiar with Japanese products before the Pacific War. They were shoddy and breakdown easily. When a Japanese exhibition ship came to Singapore during my student days, there were crude jokes about scratching the paint off their cars and finding the “Milo” label underneath.

9. By the time I went to Japan, the quality of their cameras and motorcycles could not be questioned. They were superb. So were their watches. Japanese brands had become the mark of quality.

10. Since 1961, I had visited Japan very many times and I was amazed at their progress and the speed with which they demolished their old reputation for low quality. And I wished we in Malaysia could be like them.

11. Everyone knows about “hara-kiri” or “seppuku” the Japanese practice of ritual suicide when they failed in whatever they were tasked to do. When Japan lost the war thousands of Japanese soldiers committed suicide.

12. I thought at first that this Japanese practice was quite inhuman and uncivilised. Then I realised that the Japanese have a strong sense of shame. When they fail they consider it so shameful that life was not worth living.

13. They do not commit hara-kiri now but some of their Ministers would resign if something wrong happened in their ministry. They would accordingly try not to fail in their work.

14. I noticed the quality and fineness of the handmade bamboo products. I believe that this is the result of their trying to avoid feeling ashamed of shoddy work.

15. I think that is why the Japanese produce such high quality products we are familiar with today. Their cars are of the best quality. Really they are as good as the top German cars. In fact in many ways they are better. And I believe this derives from their desire not to be ashamed of their work.

16. Japan is far more secure than most other countries in the East or the West. We don’t read reports of people being coshed in the parks or dark streets. Certainly burglary is not as common as it is in Malaysia.

17. Cleanliness is almost a fetish in Japan. Young school children would not throw rubbish on the road. They would carry whatever they wanted to get rid off until they find a rubbish bin. Japanese employees with ties on can be seen watering and sweeping the pavements in front of their shops. No Malaysian would do this, certainly not with their ties on.

18. Japanese factory workers often arrive early at the work place to discuss with fellow-workers their target for the day. They regard the next shift as their customers who must be served well. They would clean up their work-bench before going off, so that the next shift can start work immediately. They are constantly trying to improve their products. They call this “kaizen”.

19. They have workers unions but they seldom go on strike. Certainly we do not hear of a general strike which really is a political act. They remain loyal to their company for life.

20. In return the company looks after the workers. Until lately they do not sack their workers, preferring to reassign them if the company did not do well or the workers have become unproductive.

21. In recent years they have abandoned this practice. The sacked workers feel so ashamed that they refuse to go home to their families. During the recession the unemployed workers would erect huts of blue plastic in open spaces or wide road dividers and live in them. They would go around collecting tin-cans to shape them into toys to sell for a living. This is something that you do not see anywhere else. The unemployed always expect to be on dole provided by Governments. I have not seen destitute tramps in rags in Japan as I have seen in many Western countries.

22. The Japanese really work hard. This one single character contributes the most to the success of individuals, society or nation. They are not laid back. Akio Morita, the founder of Sony Corporation, tells in his book about how the Japanese worker was willing to be paid with a ball of rice with soya sauce in the early years after the war. That willingness must have contributed much to the recovery of Japan and high pay that Japanese workers enjoy now.

23. Working hard may not mean working smart, but certainly it is much more productive than not working or being laid back.

24. Watching the Japanese and their progress over the years convinced me that adopting their work ethics and the discipline of their work place would do the same for Malaysians and Malaysia.

25. And so hardly a year after becoming Prime Minister, with the authority vested in me I proposed the Look East Policy. Many in my cabinet the administration and the public questioned the wisdom of this policy. Many said why copy the copier; why not go to the source of modern industrial civilisation. But enough accepted the novel policy and so the Look East Policy was adopted and implemented.

26. I believe it is a success. At the Tokyo forum organised by Nomura Securities, Nikkei and Khazanah, the talk was about the future strategies and form that the Look East Policy would take. But whatever, the one single most important aspect of the Look East Policy is the development of a value system, a work culture and ethics that is compatible with success. And among them should be the cultivation of a strong sense of shame when delivering results which do not give pride to the person, the people or the country. This feeling of shame will make us work hard to deliver the best in everything that we do. That is the essence of the Look East Policy. May it continue for the next 30 years at least.

by : Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad – Prime Minister of Malaysia (1981 – 2003), chedet.cc

Asia