The Malay Mail Online
April 1, 2014
KUALA LUMPUR, April 1 — Malaysia may be grappling with the crisis of flight MH370 but international rebuke, particularly from China, over its handling is not fully deserved, the Financial Times said.
In a commentary here, the business daily’s Singapore-based senior editor Jeremy Grant suggested that even China — Malaysia’s biggest critic since the Boeing 777-200ER’s mysterious disappearance on March 8 — would not likely have fared better.
He reminded China of its previous debacles in the face of public crises, such as the melamine-contaminated milk scandal in 2008 that had turned into a public relations nightmare for the republic.
In another fiasco, the Chinese authorities were accused of muzzling the media and attempting to cover-up the tragic high-speed rail crash in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, which killed 38 people and injured 192.
Despite its previous performance, China is now putting Malaysia under the spotlight over similar accusations.
Among others, they allege that Malaysian authorities are covering-up mistakes made in the early days of MH370’s disappearance to avoid perceptions of bungled investigations.
Last weekend, a group of irate Chinese families flew to Malaysia to demand answers and even staged a protest outside a hotel that Malaysia Airlines had booked for them.
During the protest, they called Malaysian authorities murderers and vowed never to forgive them for the loss of their loved ones.
In his commentary, Grant agreed that Malaysia made many missteps from the start.
When MH370 first disappeared from civilian radar screens on the morning of March 8, search planes were not immediately dispatched to look for the missing jetliner carrying 239 people, he pointed out.
Then, search and rescue operations had been concentrated in the South China Sea where MH370 was last seen even though readily available military data showed a mysterious aircraft flying in the opposite direction over the Straits of Malacca that same day.
“Even after the investigation had settled into a routine of daily news conferences, Malaysia’s messaging was fumbling.
“The first few featured officials who had probably never faced journalists before, and military brass who bristled in sometimes inadequate English at what was being asked,” Grant wrote.
“But,” he added, “… the analysis should not stop there. Malaysia was, and remains, faced with an aviation disaster that is unprecedented on almost every level.”
The last such commercial aircraft disappearance was the Air France flight 447 off Brazil. But Grant pointed out that in that case, debris showed up five days into search and rescue, and the grieving families were offered early closure to the tragedy.
In the Air France case, he added, the aircraft was filled with mostly French passengers and the responsibility of the search was cleanly in the hands of the French government.
In the case of MH370, however, the Chinese accounted for a staggering 153 passengers of the 239 people on board
“Few countries could have handled that flawlessly, not least China, one of Malaysia’s biggest critics,” he said.
He noted that while some of the Malaysian officials were less than eloquent in the early days of MH370’s disappearance, Malaysia’s acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has at least put on a “polished and assured” front.
“He (Hishammuddin) likely understands the imperative of treating China with care; Malaysia’s population of almost 30m is about the same as that of the Chinese city-province of Chongqing. China is Malaysia’s biggest trading partner,” Grant pointed out.
Search efforts for MH370 is now approaching its fourth week. The jetliner, a widebody Boeing 777-200ER aircraft, disappeared from radar screens mysteriously on the morning of March 8, offering little clues in its trail as to how and why it had gone missing.
The hunt is now concentrated in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Perth, Australia, which is hundreds of miles off MH370’s original flight path to Beijing.