Asean displays solidarity as region suffers

opinion March 11, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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But Chinese media's response to the missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft shows cooperation between neighbours is still lacking

A friend in need is a friend indeed, so the saying goes. The Malaysia Airlines plane that has gone missing with 239 passengers is testing relations and cooperation among Asean friends and partners.
Countries in Southeast Asia are mobilising resources to help search for the missing aircraft. Vietnam responded quickly, deploying emergency officials to the area where the plane was last seen on radar. Hanoi deserves credit for leaping to the aid of an Asean neighbour.
Two-thirds of those on board the flight were from China. The aircraft went missing in the early hours of Saturday over the South China Sea, which is currently at the centre of conflicts between several Asean members, including Vietnam and its giant neighbour China. Territorial disputes between Beijing and Asean countries have been going on for years. The disputes have sparked violent confrontations over the past few years. Malaysia, whose national carrier owns the missing Boeing 777 airliner, is one of the parties to those disputes.
Human lives are more important than land. The countries in conflict over South China Sea islands and atolls have been able to lay their disputes to one side in favour of close cooperation in the effort to find the missing aircraft.
Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand had no nationals on board but are still lending a helping hand to Malaysia in the search. Australia, as an Asia-Pacific ally, has dispatched a plane to help in the search. The United States has sent officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to try and discover what happened – including the possibility that terrorists might have downed or hijacked the jet. 
Of course, the priority must be the search for the passengers and crew, but other factors should not be ignored. Thailand has sent manpower and equipment for the search, but it must also look into the fact that some passengers on board the plane had used passports stolen in Phuket. This fact could be linked to the cause of the aircraft’s disappearance. But it would be good to know how Thailand became the source of false travel documents and whether they had any role in the fate of the flight. Gaining such information would also help authorities review their security measures for aviation.
However, it is regrettable that some parties have decided not to play a constructive role at this critical time. China’s state-run media on Monday lashed out at Malaysia and its national carrier over their handling of the disappearance, calling for a swifter response and tightened airport security.
“The Malaysian side cannot shirk its responsibilities,” editorialised the Global Times, a mouthpiece of the ruling Chinese Communist Party. “The initial response from Malaysia was not swift enough,” it said with scathing haste.
Of course the authorities must not be let off the hook in this matter, but this is not yet the time for pointing the figure of blame. Rather than a knee-jerk call for Malaysia and the airline to review security measures, Chinese media should demand that Beijing authorities put more effort into helping Asean to find the stricken aircraft.
Then, Asean and its allies in the region should come together to look at aviation safety, which needs strong cooperation, not blame games.