No need for Malaysia to look North, South, East, West; just tap the home-grown talents

THE Look East Policy unveiled in 1982 was described as one of the “iconic policies” of the then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

In fact, the term has become a ” household name” for more than 30 years. Essentially, the policy is all about learning the work ethics, moral values and norms of Japan – and incorporating them into the Malaysian society.

The thrust towards the East was also motivated by Dr Mahathir’s intense dislike of the West, especially the British.

The Look East Policy was a follow-up to his ludicrous Buy British Last policy – all designed to shed the colonial past. It did not matter that the Japanese were past masters at crime against humanity during the Second World War.

But Japan has risen from the ashes of defeat to become a powerhouse economy. How did the Land of the Rising Sun manage this feat? That was what Malaysia wanted to find out decades later.

And so was born the Look East Policy ostensibly to pursue the same course that took Japan to the top of the pole.

Granted, Malaysia did benefit from the close economic cooperation with Japan but it did not emerge as an unparalleled regional powerhouse, let alone a global champion.

Inforgraphic credit: Bernama

Where’ve we erred?

Today, after decades of looking at Japan and South Korea for tips on how to get the country moving on the fast track to high-income status, Malaysia cannot be said to have achieved the desired goal.

Malaysia was eager to emulate the success stories of the Asian industrial heroes, especially their work ethics. If only our people were as industrious as the workers in Japan and South Korea, voila, we could have made it into the ranks of the advanced nations.

The dream did not materialise. Why then do we continue to crane our necks so hard to look at Japan, South Korea and now even China to drive our engine of growth? All the traits found in these Asian giants could also be found in the Malaysian population.

A significant proportion of the population is as hardworking and diligent as their counterparts in the East. In China, the very characteristics and mindset that energised the citizens to propel the country forward could similarly be mined in our own citizens.

Although this section of the Malaysian population belongs to a minority ethnic group, it could be said that it represents a microcosm of the people in China and Japan.

By right, the Look East Policy should have driven the country to be on a competitive level with other Asian nations but it appears that the lack of work ethics and other required characteristics had hampered the push towards excellence.

Yet the ethnic minority group in Malaysia has shown resilience, diligence and determination to succeed in the face of so many obstacles thrown up by discriminatory government policies.

How did they race ahead of their fellow citizens, especially in the business arena? Dr Mahathir, the father of the Look East Policy, should have been happy to see Chinese of Malaysian origin making vigorous headway in acquiring wealth.

Looking inside

Their hard work and perseverance are the very qualities that Dr Mahathir extolled in the Japanese. When Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim extended the policy to cover China, both leaders recognised the admirable attributes of the people of these global giants.

But the ancient politician is angry that the Chinese are more successful than the majority race in the business sector. Dr Mahathir seems to think that the others are not playing a fair game.

Pic credit: Nikkei Asia

Some 40 years later, the story is not about Malaysia achieving the same status as Japan and South Korea but about one majority race lagging behind the others.

Instead of competing with other nations, the story in Malaysia is largely about one ethnic group making great strides against another larger group. How did the former manage to pull off this great feat without holding on to any crutch?

It is time we tapped local talents and endeavoured to assimilate the same qualities that were responsible for making Japan, South Korea, China and even Singapore the great powerhouses of Asia.

Malaysia need not be looking North, South, East and West. Look inside your own borders to tap the energy and talents of a large section of the population which had worked very hard to stay afloat and thrived.

All the qualities that Dr Mahathir admires in other countries are exemplified in these people who showed true grit and determination to forge ahead in the “race of life”. – Jan 5, 2023


Phlip Rodrigues is a FocusM reader.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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