MH 370: Lessons from Australia

By Charles Santiago, Klang MP

Thursday’s press conference by Malaysia’s Defense Minister and acting Transport Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein was like never before. He placed great importance in getting the facts right and tailored his statement to match that of Australia’s.

He also went to great length to explain about the assets deployed in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.

He did not say anything that was different from what we knew, in that Australia had credible leads on the flight.

At the time he spoke, we were aware that the US aircraft had failed to spot the two wreckages picked up by Australian satellite.

But Hishammuddin’s information was coordinated with what Australia had said, sending a message to the grieving family members that Malaysia cared.

But we could learn a few things from our down under neighbor. The Australian Prime Minister was on top of the job from the time the country took control of searching the southern Indian Ocean.

Tony Abbot’s announcement in Parliament about spotting the wreckage sent all the right messages- that he was serious and the issue was above partisan lines.

Malaysia had fumbled from day one. Contradictory statements, mismatched announcements and recanting of what was said just hours earlier triggered speculation that the government was hiding crucial information. And the Malaysian Parliament has not heard from the Prime Minister on the multi-national search and rescue efforts, prompting the opposition to demand the setting-up of a parliamentary select committee.

And why won’t it do so?

Territorial disputes over islands and sea lanes on the South China Sea between Malaysia, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia may have pressured governments to hush up about satellite images, fearing accusations of spying.

Just before the aircraft went missing on March 8, China and the Philippines were at each other’s throats over a shoal on the South China Sea.

Despite the urgency of the matter, Thailand delayed sharing data picked up by its satellite.
And although it has kicked up a big fuss, which has strained diplomatic ties, China too was guilty of the same thing. And this is notwithstanding the fact that more than 150 people on board the ill-fated plane were Chinese nationals.

Experts have repeatedly said countries in the region and China are also reluctant to show its full military capabilities.

Malaysia has literally begged countries to share its military and satellite data. Nations are working together but how much is being shared remains a question.

Twenty six countries and millions of dollars have been invested in the search for the missing Boeing 777. I can only hope that equal importance is placed by respective governments, including Malaysia, in being forthcoming with primary data.

We cannot afford to lose time. We already have lost 12 days in futile search. The lives of 239 people are at stake. And their families need closure.

This catastrophe has brought out the best of Malaysians and people around the world. I pray that it compels nation states to do the same.

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