Malaysian Jet Liner

By Aarushi Gupta
Staff Writer

On March 7, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak addressed the world and revealed that flight officials had lost contact with Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 (MH370), and that a search and rescue operation was well underway. The families of the passengers and crew aboard the proclaimed “missing flight” were notified via text message, ostensibly as a formality. However, later that day, evidence of plane debris emerged, confirming suspicions that MH370 had crashed, presumably in the Indian Ocean, which triggered the international search for the remnants of the lost Boeing 777-200.

Razak disclosed that contact with MH370 had been lost on March 7, but Malaysian Airlines officials had already been searching for the lost plane for a few hours before the official announcement had been made. Collaboration between Vietnam, Malaysia and Australia, as well as the United States and 11 other nations resulted in information regarding the potential location of MH370 and/or any scattered debris that may have dispersed upon the plane’s crash landing, but no definite conclusions were reached. However, the main source of confusion surrounding flight MH370 is not where it went down, but why.

Why did this plane, within an hour of taking off, reroute and fly hundreds of miles west while losing contact with ground control and satellites, to the extent that no one actually knows for sure where it actually crashed? It is shocking in this day and age that a plane can be lost, when civilian cell phone tracking and communications monitoring is the norm for several countries. Not only did ground control lose contact with MH370, but also satellite contact was not acquired. The Malaysian authorities had at one point implicated the pilots, Capt. Zaharie Ahmed Shah and Fariq Abdul Hamid, saying that it is possible that the former was involved in potential terrorist activities. Malaysian Officials have repeatedly said, “the pilot of MH flight 370 deliberately flew the jet off course” and have been asking Zaharie’s relatives for information regarding his behavior and actions before the March 7 takeoff. An unknown official associated with the investigation has been quoted off-record as saying, “he was the only person with the necessary skills and experience to pilot the aircraft,” saying that Zaharie’s copilot, Hamid, would not have been capable of hijacking the aircraft.

Malaysian officials have been reluctant to reveal several details of the ongoing investigation, angering Chinese officials and the families of the missing Chinese citizens, who comprised the majority of the passengers aboard MH370. However, while Malaysian authorities have been adamantly pushing the theory that Capt. Zaharie was in some way compromised to fly the aircraft or was on a suicide mission, Interpol has revealed that Malaysian officials in Kuala Lumpur did not validate the passports of any passengers, including the two passengers who allegedly used stolen passports to illegally migrate to the West. The officials said that “consulting an Interpol Stolen passport database would have taken too much time and caused too many delays to be useful.” Interpol rebuked this claim, asserting that a search on the stolen passport database yields results in 0.2 seconds, hinting at suspicious actions not by the pilot, but instead by Malaysian flight authorities or even the Malaysian government. Apparently, “Malaysia’s Immigration Department did not conduct a single check of passengers’ passports against Interpol’s databases,” according to Interpol.

In the midst of cooperation between 15 countries, the Malaysian government has acted as a bottleneck for the information emerging from this investigation, releasing intelligence in a slow, steady flow. Among a lack of information, they were quick to proclaim the missing flight as “probably crashed” somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Even now, as 12 planes and 5 ships from all over the region collaborate to search for more evidence of the crash, Malaysian officials remain mum about details surrounding the communication loss and the poor satellite reception. The lack of transparency surrounding the investigation has infuriated Chinese officials and families of the 239 people on board, but has also given way to conspiracy theories that can neither be confirmed nor denied, due to the lack of information provided by the Malaysian government.

Several news outlets have proposed wild theories, most notably CNN. On March 19, CNN’s Don Lemon asked the former Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Mary Shriver, if it was possible that MH370 had been sucked up by a black hole. Shriver clarified to Lemon and the rest of the world that a black hole would “suck in our entire universe. So we know it’s not that.” However, theories analogous to popular TV shows such as “Lost” and “The Twilight Zone” have been proposed, and several correspondents have even asked why the Malaysian Government has not used psychics to find the debris from MH370. Other more realistic theories include that the pilots of the Malaysian Airlines flight purposely avoided radio signals and changed the flight path of the plane through coordinates that are known to not have radio signal. These theories may or may not be grounded in truth, but due to the omnipresence of a 24-hour news cycle where information is continuously flowing, news outlets have begun reporting on even the smallest details of the case, and to keep viewers’ interest, have attempted to stretch the information available into barely viable theories for the sake of ratings. Unless the Malaysian authorities (or any countries affiliated with the search) present some real information, media outlets should reevaluate their priorities and focus on the current issues on hand.

The unsettling realization that modern technology can be so ineffective, the sketchy and slow flow of evidence and the widespread international involvement are all aspects of what has made this case especially compelling news. Each day a representative from an involved country presents renewed statements regarding the fate of MH370. Currently, the search has switched over to focus on the black box on MH370, which is the communications center for the plane. Pundits believe that the black box contains information that can elucidate details about the final moments of those on MH370, and can help solve the mystery of the plane. Obviously, finding the black box in the Indian Ocean presents a considerable challenge.

This is not the first time Malaysian Airlines has lost of one of their planes. In 1977, Malaysian Airlines Flight 653 was high jacked en route to Kuala Lumpur and crashed into a mangrove swamp as it descended, killing all passengers and crew on board. Families of the passengers aboard MH653 are still skeptical of the details surrounding the plane crash, but one thing is certain–MH370 has certainly resurfaced memories and feelings surrounding the MH635 crash. Tom Sherrington, whose father perished on MH653, offers this advice for the families of the passengers of MA370: “Focus on remembering [your] loved ones and try no to fixate on assigning blame…stick together and find comfort in each other.”

Image by Aero Icarus


PROSPECT Journal is collaborating with East by Southeast, a new blog focusing on China and its neighbors in Southeast Asia. As part of this collaboration, PROSPECT will be intermittently publishing articles by the East by Southeast bloggers, who all live and work in the region. Our journal is excited to bring a wider range of expert analysis of Southeast Asian affairs to our readers.

By Brian Eyler
Contributing Writer

The China-South Asia Expo opened without a hitch yesterday in Kunming despite online calls for a continuation of environmental protests outside of the Expo’s opening ceremony site. It seems protesters decided to stay home due to a combination of sticks and carrots offered by local authorities. On June 3, Kunming’s mayor announced the release of key environmental impact assessment data concerning the construction of a PetroChina oil refinery and PX chemical plant side project scheduled for construction 40 km from the city’s downtown area. Also, the excessive presence of armed and unarmed public security officers lining the city’s streets and manning the Expo site also likely turned protesters away.

What is the rationale behind the excessive security measures? What’s really at stake at the 1st China-South Asia Expo?

The Expo, a combination trade fair and high level forum for investment and trade promotion discussions between China, Southeast Asia and now South Asia, is part of China’s “Bridgehead Construction” strategy to establish Kunming and Yunnan province as a gateway between China and its neighbors to the south and west. A smoothly running Expo not only will seal multilateral agreements and high-value business deals that will streamline regional trade and investment, but it will also guarantee the continuation of soft-budget infrastructure development projects sponsored by Beijing to Kunming and Yunnan province that are part and parcel of the “Bridgehead” strategy.

The event is critically central to China’s plans for regional economic integration, so much so that Premier Li Keqiang, coming off a series of trade promotion visits to South Asian countries, was purportedly scheduled to attend yesterday’s opening ceremonies. But to many a Kunminger’s disappointment, Li Keqiang didn’t show up, and Vice Premier Ma Kai was sent in his stead.

The Expo is the continuation and augmentation of the long-running Kunming Import and Export Fair with a twist due to an ongoing provincial rivalry in China. The Kunming Fair focused on trade promotion and relations with mainland Southeast Asian nations, but in 2005, Yunnan’s neighbor, Guangxi became jealously vocal toward the volume of central level funding pipelined to Yunnan for improving relations with China’s Southeast Asian neighbors as part of the bridgehead construction strategy.

The antagonism makes sense to a degree given Guangxi’s border with Vietnam and its maritime orientation toward Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. As a result, the Guangxi provincial government gained responsibility for trade and investment relations with ASEAN states and Yunnan’s responsibilities were curbed to its mainland Southeast Asian neighbors. After years of lobbying to the central government in Beijing, Yunnan’s provincial officials gained a one-up over Guangxi: a new designation as China’s gateway province to not only South Asia, but the entire Indian Ocean region including the east African coastline. Thus the China-South Asia Expo was born and designated for launch in Kunming.

The Expo grounds are open for the public to browse through mazes of booths promoting a variety of tradable goods mainly from Nepal, Pakistan, India, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam as well as China (which has the greatest representation at the Expo), but the real action is happening far from the Expo site.

Top level ministers, business leaders, and heads of industrial organizations from around the region are meeting at locations undisclosed to the public to negotiate multilateral trade agreements, sign business deals, and iron out the obstacles that currently block the flow of goods and people through the region at logistical chokepoints like China’s border nodes with Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar.

On the agenda is a renewed discussion of highway and rail linkages between Yunnan and India via Myanmar and Bangladesh. This link will cut through and over the Himalayan foothills on some of Earth’s most rugged terrain. The route also will pass through Myanmar’s militarized Kachin state. India tabled the discussion of this strategic pathway in 2009, and construction is unlikely to begin any time soon.

Also on the agenda are talks to establish cross-border economic zones (CBEZs) between China (Yunnan) and Myanmar at Ruili and China (Yunnan) and Laos at Mohan/Boten. However, China’s success in establishing robust and productive CBEZs with its neighbors is extremely limited. Since 2007, both funding and political capital in both China and Vietnam has been earmarked for a CBEZ at the Hekou/Lao Cai border area in southeastern Yunnan and Vietnam’s northernmost province. Despite years of negotiations, the two sides have yet to settle on the structure and purpose of the CBEZ – they have wavered between ideas such as an export processing zone, a high technology industrial park, and Guangxi’s Commerce department chief declared at a 2011 negotiation that his vision for the zone would emulate the Eurozone. Clearly, while decision makers lack technical knowledge to solve this problem (and consistently crowd out the private sector in the process) the negotiations lose steam due to a failure to identify or fabricate a true economic purpose for the CBEZ. Tenuous diplomatic relations between Vietnam and China also contribute to the stalemate.

Will the discussions with Laos and Myanmar meet similar fates?

Conspicuously absent from the slate of Expo related meetings and discussions is participation from the civil society groups, academics, and the private sector outside of the region. Issues such as global warming, environmental degradation, food security, urbanization, and energy and water resource management are beginning to drive political agendas in both China and the region. Sustainable economic development in China, Southeast Asia, and South Asia cannot proceed forward without including discussion of these key issues and without reaching out to a broader base of stakeholders who are already deeply rooted in the region.

The ExSE blog team will continue analysis of the China-South Asia Expo throughout the weekend. The Expo concludes on Monday, June 10.

See the original post here.

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