Malaysia’s “Look East” Policy: A Strategic Shift towards Asia


Malaysia’s “Look East” Policy is a foreign policy initiative that has played a pivotal role in shaping the country’s international relations, economic development, and educational reforms since its inception in the early 1980s. This policy, inspired by Japan’s remarkable post-World War II economic success, has aimed to emulate the Japanese model of development while fostering closer ties with Asian neighbors. In this blog, we will delve into the history, objectives, and impact of Malaysia’s “Look East” Policy.

A Historical Perspective

The “Look East” Policy was officially launched in 1982 under the leadership of Malaysia’s then-Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. Dr. Mahathir, who was impressed by Japan’s rapid economic growth, technological advancements, and disciplined work ethic, envisioned that Malaysia could learn valuable lessons from Japan’s development journey. Hence, Malaysia began to “look east” towards Japan for inspiration and collaboration.

Mahathir is back with his pivotal Look East policy - Khmer Times

Key Objectives

  1. Economic Development: At the heart of the “Look East” Policy was the desire to accelerate Malaysia’s economic growth and industrialization. Malaysia aimed to adopt Japanese practices in various sectors, including manufacturing, technology, and infrastructure development.
  2. Technological Advancements: Japan’s cutting-edge technology and innovation were a significant draw for Malaysia. The “Look East” Policy sought to facilitate technology transfer and encourage the adoption of Japanese best practices in Malaysian industries.
  3. Human Capital Development: To realize its economic ambitions, Malaysia recognized the importance of a highly skilled workforce. The policy encouraged Malaysians to pursue higher education in Japan, with scholarships and training programs designed to enhance human capital.
  4. Diplomatic Relations: Beyond economic and educational cooperation, Malaysia’s “Look East” Policy aimed to strengthen diplomatic ties with Asian countries, particularly Japan. This approach sought to foster regional stability and cooperation in Southeast Asia.


Impact of the “Look East” Policy

  1. Economic Growth: Malaysia’s “Look East” Policy has undeniably contributed to the country’s economic growth and industrialization. By adopting Japanese manufacturing techniques and management principles, Malaysia established itself as a competitive player in the global market.
  2. Technological Advancements: The policy facilitated technology transfer and knowledge sharing between Japan and Malaysia. This transfer of technology helped bolster various industries, including automotive manufacturing, electronics, and machinery.
  3. Human Capital Development: Thousands of Malaysians have pursued higher education in Japan, returning with valuable skills and knowledge that have enriched Malaysia’s workforce. This has played a pivotal role in fostering a knowledge-based economy.
  4. Diplomatic Relations: The “Look East” Policy has strengthened Malaysia’s ties not only with Japan but also with other Asian nations. It has helped Malaysia become a prominent player in regional diplomacy, contributing to the stability and prosperity of Southeast Asia.


Challenges and Adaptations

While the “Look East” Policy has achieved many of its objectives, it has not been without challenges. Malaysia’s evolving political landscape and changing global dynamics have necessitated adaptations to the policy. The shift in leadership and priorities over the years has led to modifications in the emphasis placed on different aspects of the policy.


Other Countries Inspiration

Malaysia’s “Look East” Policy, which was inspired by Japan’s economic success, has attracted the attention of several countries, particularly those in Southeast Asia and beyond. While these countries may not have adopted identical policies, they have shown an interest in learning from Malaysia’s experience and fostering closer ties with Japan and other East Asian nations. Here are a few examples:

  • Indonesia: Indonesia, Malaysia’s neighbor and fellow ASEAN member, has shown interest in aspects of Malaysia’s “Look East” Policy, particularly in the realm of education and human capital development. Like Malaysia, Indonesia has sent students to study in Japan and has explored opportunities for technology transfer and economic cooperation with Japan.
  • Thailand: Thailand, another ASEAN member, has also looked to Malaysia’s experience with the “Look East” Policy. The Thai government has initiated programs to send students to study in Japan and has sought to deepen economic ties and technology transfer with Japanese companies.
  • Vietnam: Vietnam has pursued a similar path of economic development as Malaysia, with a focus on manufacturing and industrialization. Vietnam has been interested in learning from Malaysia’s experience in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) and technology transfer, especially in the automotive and electronics sectors.
  • South Korea: South Korea, while not an ASEAN member, has established strong economic ties with Malaysia and other Southeast Asian nations. South Korea’s emphasis on technology, innovation, and education has similarities with the “Look East” approach, and both countries have explored collaboration in these areas.
  • India: India, as a growing economic power, has shown interest in Malaysia’s “Look East” Policy as a model for development. India and Malaysia have explored partnerships in education, technology transfer, and trade, reflecting a shared vision of economic growth and regional stability.
  • Singapore: While Singapore is already an advanced economy, it shares strong economic ties with Malaysia and other Asian nations. Singapore has been involved in various educational and economic collaborations with Japan and Malaysia, leveraging its strategic location in the region.
  • China: China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has intersected with Malaysia’s “Look East” Policy in some areas, particularly in infrastructure development. Malaysia’s willingness to engage with multiple Asian partners, including China and Japan, reflects its balanced approach to regional cooperation.


These countries, among others, have recognized the value of looking to East Asia, particularly Japan, for inspiration and collaboration in various aspects of economic development, technology transfer, and education. While each nation has tailored its approach to suit its unique circumstances and priorities, Malaysia’s “Look East” Policy has served as a source of inspiration and a basis for regional cooperation and learning.


Malaysia’s “Look East” Policy has been a strategic and transformative approach to economic development, technology transfer, and human capital development. By looking to Japan and the wider Asian region for inspiration and collaboration, Malaysia has not only achieved significant economic growth but has also become an influential player in regional diplomacy. As Malaysia continues to navigate the complex global landscape, its “Look East” Policy remains a vital element in shaping its future and maintaining its position as a dynamic and forward-looking nation in Asia.


ASCA TECH LAB and Look East Policy

ASCA TECH LAB & Tun Dr. Mahathir in Tokyo

As the ASCA Tech Lab, we are proud supporters of Malaysia’s Look East Policy, which has been instrumental in fostering economic growth, technological advancement, and regional cooperation. Our commitment to this policy is reflected in our multifaceted support activities aimed at contributing to Malaysia’s development and strengthening its ties with East Asian nations, particularly Japan.

  • Technology Transfer and Innovation**: We actively facilitate technology transfer initiatives between Malaysia and Japan, promoting the exchange of cutting-edge technologies and innovative solutions. Through collaborations with Japanese companies and research institutions, we help Malaysian industries stay at the forefront of technological advancements.
  • Education and Skill Enhancement**: Recognizing the importance of human capital development, we support educational programs that enable Malaysians to study in Japan, acquiring valuable skills and knowledge. These initiatives enhance Malaysia’s workforce and contribute to its transformation into a knowledge-based economy.
  • Economic Partnerships**: We promote economic partnerships and investments between Malaysia and Japan, creating opportunities for businesses to thrive. By connecting Malaysian companies with Japanese counterparts, we encourage mutually beneficial ventures and trade relations.
  • Diplomatic Engagement**: We actively engage in diplomatic efforts to strengthen Malaysia’s ties with East Asian countries, fostering regional stability and cooperation. Our advocacy for peaceful dialogue and collaboration contributes to the policy’s broader diplomatic objectives.
  • Research and Policy Development**: We conduct research and analysis to provide insights into policy improvements and adaptation. By staying informed about global trends and best practices, we ensure that Malaysia’s “Look East” Policy remains relevant and effective in a changing world


In summary, as the ASCA Tech Lab, our support activities align with Malaysia’s “Look East” Policy, focusing on technology transfer, education, economic partnerships, diplomatic engagement, and policy development. Through these efforts, we are dedicated to helping Japan and Malaysia achieve its development goals and strengthen its position as a dynamic and forward-looking nation.