Twenty-six countries are involved in the search for Flight MH370, and it is times like these that we are reminded of who our real friends are.
IF there’s a silver lining to the anguish and uncertainty which surrounds the disappearance of Flight MH370, it is that we are reminded of who our friends are.
While the public focus may have been on the daily press briefings, work went on behind the scenes, putting our diplomacy to the test.
With 26 countries providing assets, data and intelligence, the level and type of civilian and military cooperation in this national and international tragedy was unprecedented.
“Some countries sent assets from the beginning, without Malaysian officials even picking up the phone or making diplomatic contact,” noted former army field commander Lt Jen (Rtd) Datuk Seri Zaini Mohd Said, speaking as an observer.
A Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) official said British Prime Minister David Cameron called Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on his own initiative, to say the missing crew and passengers were in their thoughts and prayers and to ask if there was any help Britain could give.
Najib was making calls until around 10pm each day, contacting heads of state and heads of government in Australia, Bangladesh, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, New Zealand, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
In some cases, he had to speak through interpreters.
“It shows his concern about the crisis and that he has done everything he could, at the highest level,” said the PMO Official.
The Prime Minister asked for help detecting whether the plane had entered their territories.
“If the plane had been detected he asked their help to inform us and if it hadn’t, to let us know also so that we can narrow the search.”
Although Malaysia was asking for both civilian and military information, and from countries with different ideologies, the PMO Official said there were no obstacles to gaining their cooperation.
“They all gave their support and sympathies and prayers. Some prime ministers and presidents also took the opportunity to invite him to visit when times are better.”
Wisma Putra was in the picture from the start, notifying the affected foreign missions on developments and the search and rescue (SAR) operation.
Both Wisma Putra and the Malaysian embassy in Beijing were involved in the operation and Wisma Putra coordinated diplomatic clearance for the assets used.
Looking back on the early stages, Datuk Seri Zaini pointed out that the first three or four days of any crisis “are always spent trying to get a grip on things. If this had happened to any other country, about 80% of them would have had the same problems that we are having.”
And he estimates that despite the massive difficulties, Malaysia managed quite well.
“It was a very challenging scenario,” he said, “and Malaysia was working with countries which also had issues.”
The processes needed for the search were not straightforward, he explained.
“You can’t just fly through without permission, for example.”
Sharing military intelligence was key to resolving the mystery of the missing MH370 and Malaysia took the lead in that.
“Malaysia has actually put aside national security, national interest to get to where we are today,” Acting Minister of Trans- port Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein stressed.
Coordinating the responses of 26 countries was a daunting task, but they all gave their utmost cooperation.
The joint international effort saw China, for example, making arrangements with Australia to send an aircraft to the southern corridor covering Indonesia to the southern part of the Indian ocean.
The PMO official sees that as a good gesture on China’s part.
“We are all working together,” he said, “and that’s a good sign for the region.”