Monday, 24 March 2014

On Beijing’s bad side: Malaysia faces political costs of MH370 disaster

The puzzling disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has seriously harmed Malaysia’s image abroad, and the government’s handling of the crisis has garnered criticism from domestic opposition parties and key ally, China.

As the search for the missing flight MH370 enters its third week, hopes are high that the large objects spotted in the inaccessible southern Indian Ocean might be related to the aircraft. Enormous resources have gone toward an extensive multinational search and rescue effort, said to be the largest in history, and a plentiful array of theories and speculation have been considered in the absence of hard facts.

The case of MH370 – the longest civil aircraft disappearance in modern history – is unprecedented, and aviation experts will likely be trying to put the pieces together for the next several months, if not years. It should be noted that any government would be ill prepared to deal with such an unusual disaster scenario.

For Malaysia – a country that has rarely faced disasters, terrorism or emergency situations – the shortcomings of the government’s response have been magnified by a lack of experience. Malaysia’s leaders have been thrust into a very unenviable position in the global spotlight, while the contradictory statements of government officials, a delayed release of information, and critical inaction of Malaysia’s military in responding to the aircraft as it flew wildly off course have all compounded the frustrations of the relatives of those onboard.

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at