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MH370: mixed prospects for regional cooperation

malaysia-airlines-2

13 Mar MH370: mixed prospects for regional cooperation

More than five days after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 lost contact with air traffic control, not a single trace of the missing plane has yet been found. The crash site of MH370 cannot even be ascertained, leading experts to describe the whole incident as a “mystery”. In comparison, the first signs of wreckage of the Air France flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in June 2009 surfaced as soon as the day after it went missing – in an area of the vast Atlantic Ocean that recorded a depth of 4,000 metres.

The majority of the passengers on the flight were Chinese citizens. One can understand the sentiments that motivated the government of China to chastise the Malaysian authorities, demanding them to intensify the search. It seemed to have put the competency of the Malaysian authorities in question. But in fact, parties from 12 countries have been involved in the search efforts alongside Malaysia, including two destroyers from the US Seventh Fleet.

Cooperation is not in short supply either. Investigations – such as that involving the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Interpol on the use of stolen passports by two of the passengers on Flight MH370 – have been massive and rapid, although these are very much standard procedures following such incidents.

The thing to note is that the crash site is near disputed areas of the South China Sea. The maritime disputes there have pitted Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and China against each other for years. One does not expect territorial disputes to be raised in the midst of a tragic affair. But it is noteworthy that Vietnam had allowed two Chinese naval vessels to pass through its waters. Chinese naval vessels were also reported to be directly contacting and cooperating with Malaysian navy ships. All these would not have been imaginable before the MH370 incident.

At best, the tragedy will lead these countries to realise the necessity for cooperation and navigation on the high seas – and in disputed waters – on humanitarian grounds. At worst, however, the trying circumstances surrounding the mysterious disappearance of MH370 could incite an ugly round of finger-pointing between the countries from which the fated passengers came. In this regard, it appears that the exchanges between China and Malaysia on the management of the crisis is gradually degenerating into antagonism.

Sources: 

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Search and Rescue: Cooperation in the South China Sea [The Diplomat, 11 Mar 2014]

Chinese force reaches suspected crash site, no sign of plane [Xinhua, 9 Mar 2014]