KUALA LUMPUR — President Barak Obama heads to Malaysia this weekend, where the host government’s handling of the disappearance of the Malaysia Airways flight has drawn international attention - and criticism. But even critics note that Malaysia has successfully used its diplomatic connections to cobble together a vast multinational search effort, in which both the U.S. and China have featured prominently.
It has been more than six weeks since Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared, shining an intense and sustained international spotlight on Malaysia.
Top officials, such as Acting Transportation Minister Hishamuddin Hussein, have faced a barrage of tough questioning and criticism from the international media over their handling of the so far fruitless search.
“I hope and I hope appeal to everybody that, though we understand their concerns we are trying our very best,” he said.
Malaysia's ruling party has been in charge for more than 50 years. Professor Azmi Sharom says it was totally unprepared for such scrutiny.
“They are more used to the more docile local media so it's not surprising that they didn't know how to handle it. Also there's a tradition of non-transparency with regards to governmentt activities and in this situation absolute transparency was necessary,” he said.
Despite missteps in releasing information, strategic analyst Steve Wong and others have praised Malaysia’s success in getting as many as two dozen countries, including both China and the U.S., to assist with the search.
“It's a triumph of Malaysia's foreign policy and diplomacy within the region, although it is shaped as I said both by what it is capable of doing. It is not a China. It is not a large power. It is a friendly power to all the countries concerned. And it is a power that actually is in need of help,” said Wong.
Was CIA involved?
But days before U.S. President Barack Obama’s first visit to Malaysia, a newspaper seen as the mouthpiece of the ruling party wrote an editorial suggesting the CIA may have been responsible for the flight’s disappearance.
Policy analyst Wan Saiful Wan Jan says such wild claims are counterproductive for the search effort and the government's image.
“It is tremendously embarrassing to us I think, not just the ruling party but the whole country should be embarrassed by this, for a major newspaper, seen as a mainstream newspaper being linked to the ruling party, being able to say ridiculous statements like this,” he said.
Political analyst Karim Raslan says the flight’s disappearance has clearly strained relations with China whose media and officials have criticized Malaysia’s handling of the crisis.
“The Chinese authorities have an ability to allow nationalist sentiment to be whipped up against certain countries and parties. They've done it with Japan. Are they going to unleash the forces on Malaysia? I think that that would be very irresponsible, and it's entirely within their charge and within their call,” said Raslan.
But both U.S. and Chinese officials have acknowledged that this disappearance of flight MH370 has been an unprecedented event that very few countries would have been equipped to deal with.