Now Japan learns from 'Malaysia First'

"ICHIRO" is a common Japanese name for males in Japan. Many Malaysians may know this as "Ichi" of Ichiban (No 1). For Japanese, this name is a special "unique noun" for Ichiro (Ichiro Suzuki), who is a national hero in Japan and internationally known as a US Major League Baseball (MLB) star player from Japan.

Taking his Japanese stats into account, Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro now at 44, one of the oldest players, has more career hits than any player in the history of major professional baseball with 4,367.

He was selected to 10 All-Star Games and also won the 2001 American League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards, 10 Gold Gloves and three Silver Slugger awards. He will surely be inducted into MLB's Hall of Fame as its first Asian player in the near future.

Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto says, "His incredible work ethic, preparation and focus will enhance our environment in many ways. He is a mentor for all players and truly one of the great players in the history of the game."

Before MLB evaluates Ichiro as a great example of Japanese work ethics, across the Pacific, 60 years ago, there was a man who was impressed by quality products, the work ethic, hard work, discipline and sincerity of Japanese society and people.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1981 launched Malaysia's "Look East Policy" to learn from Japanese economic growth and success although there were criticisms like "Why not learn from Europe" as Malaysia was a colony of Britain for a very long time.

Why did Mahathir want to learn from Japan?

He had visited Japan for the first time in 1961 while on holiday with his family. And, he got a shock to see its amazing growth with traces of WWII ruins still around.

He observed, "I could still see the traces of buildings damaged by bombs, but at the same time, there was a factory of Panasonic built in the middle of a rice field in Osaka and a highway had been built above Nippon Bashi (bridge) in Tokyo in preparation for the 1965 Tokyo Olympics. I was amazed with the dynamism of Japan and Japanese people".

He said he had read the autobiography of Sony Founder Akio Morita. "Through Morita's book, at that time, many Japanese people who only got some rice and soya sauce for meal were dedicated to their country to rebuild from nothing by showing their patriotism and hard work with unconditional love towards their country".

Since then Mahathir visited Japan many times to see its growth, and decided to learn from Japan how to beat the West when he takes office as prime minister.

He was impressed by the founders of Sony, Akio Morita, and of Panasonic, Konosuke Matsushita, who established post-war Japan with their far-sightedness, pioneer and challenging spirit without fear of failure.

They brought Japan economic growth with a revolution in technology through their unique ways and thoughts, that was totally different from the West.

As a result, Japan has grown successfully by producing high quality goods for export, and gained foreign exchange. We wanted to learn from "Corporated Japan".

Malaysia, meanwhile, has grown rapidly and in the Asean region has become the second richest state after Singapore in terms of GDP per capita.

"Now we have ability and human resources to build our country by our own. We welcome FDI (foreign direct investment), but contractors and people should include Malaysians," Mahathir said.

He launched his national new policy, "Malaysia First", which is understandable to protect national interests as prime minister for the second time.

He has scrapped the HSR to protect Malaysian interests because the deal was lop-sided against Malaysia. The deal was favourable to China and Najib's (former premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak) cronies.

I have covered GE14 extensively and interviewed Mahathir exclusively as well.

Many of my Japanese readers when commenting on my articles said that Japan should learn from Malaysia's courage to be independent and confront giants like China, as Japan has not been strong enough to face China on issues like trade and national security such as East China Sea and Senkaku Islands.

Ironically, rather than "Look East", now the Japanese need to learn from Malaysia in "Look Malaysia".

Although our opposition party DPJ (at that time) won the election in 2009, they lost badly to LDP (our long time ruling party) in 2012. There were many reasons behind the big losses, and the major reason was because they could not keep the promises listed in their election manifesto. Instead, before the 2012 election they announced that they wanted to raise consumption tax by 3% from 5% to 8%. They did not mention in their manifesto that they had earlier opposed this plan.

That decision was the game changer for people who had supported DPJ, they felt they were "cheated". And now our consumption tax is 8% and supposed to be raised by 2% to 10% in 2015. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was unable to decide on it and has further delayed it until October 2019.

This is the second time Abe has delayed it. In 2015, he postponed it to 2017. To tackle long-time deflation, Abe should reduce consumption tax from 8% to 5% instead of increasing it to 10%.

While Japan has been struggling with consumption tax reform over the last three years, Tun at once scrapped Malaysia's 6% consumption tax (GST) to 0% effective June 1 to keep an election manifesto promise.

The abolition of consumption tax is difficult to implement and rare in countries where it was launched.

There are thousands of comments from readers of my articles like, "We Japan should look Malaysia", "Hope Tun can sustain as long as possible", "If we have PM like Tun in Japan, we can contain and confront China more strongly and strategically".

Tun Mahathir's visit to Japan is his first foreign visit after becoming prime minister for the second time. This is not an official state visit but to attend an international conference on "Future of Asia", organised by Nikkei Newspaper in Tokyo. I have also been invited to cover the conference.

Our national hero, MLB star Ichiro hopes to continue to play until his 50s, which nobody has done before, and to continue to bring new changes and concepts to the MLB.

I wrote an article titled "GE14 with Mahathir Tsunami" before the election. When I was a visiting professor at University of Malaya sent by the Japanese government, my Malaysian students had asked me, "Are you sure, we will change the government?"

Now they know, Tun Mahathir is like "Ichiro in politics" to rebuild "Malaysia Baru" with a revolution and reform through the Mahathir Tsunami. He is a Solomon of Asia, a very wise man of Asia!

Megumi Suenaga is the Asia correspondent/ columnist for the Japan Business Press. She was a Sankei Newspaper international staff journalist, a former visiting professor at University of Malaya and associate professor at Osaka University. Comments: