The Look East Policy : its impact in promoting Japanese management techniques to manufacturing firms in Malaysia
The Look East Policy (LEP), which was officially launched in February 1982, came about as a result of the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamed's determination to encourage Malaysians to "learn from Japan". Despite the difficulties in transferring management ideas between countries, Mahathir was convinced that with the Look East Policy he could persuade management in Malaysia, and particularly in the manufacturing firms, to implement wholesale the Japanese model of management or Japanese management techniques. This is not only because he believed that Japanese management techniques were the prerequisites for Malaysia's drive for industrialisation, but also he believed that they were the solutions to the problems cojifronting the Malaysian workforce. However, the findings from this study seem to suggest that only certain elements of the Japanese management techniques have been implemented in or transferred to the manufacturing firms in Malaysia. Even then, our findings show that there are a number of problems being encountered, especially if these elements are not compatible with Malaysian cultural and religious beliefs. This could imply that certain elements of the Japanese management practices are culture-bound and therefore difficult to transfer to a different cultural environment. Our findings also seem to suggest that despite the strength of the state in Malaysia, it has not been very successful in promoting, through the Look East Policy, the Japanese style of management to manufacturing firms. Instead, it is suggested that the majority of the Malaysian workforce prefers the present management system that is pro-West, which suggests its profound influence in Malaysia. Hence, it can be argued that because of the multi-ethnic and multi-religious beliefs in Malaysia, and also because of the strong influence of the West, there is a limit to what the state can do or achieve. Based on our findings, it might be possible to suggest the following conclusions: (i) that the Look East Policy was never properly thought through in terms of the difficulty of transferring management techniques from one culture to another; (ii) a more limited objective with regard to learning from the Japanese might have been more successful. However, this would have demanded not only a long-term commitment but also greater involvement from Chinese community; and (iii) that the Look East Policy was always a political as well as an economic one. Perhaps its success should be judged not on a basis of whether it was adopted but on whether it achieved its political objectives.