MH370 tragedy a tough test for China

MH370 tragedy a tough test for China
A Chinese air force crew member looking for signs of the missing Flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean. Since the aircraft's disappearance, Beijing's actions not only revealed its readiness - or lack of it - for handling such an emergency, but also shined a light on China's standing among its neighbours in the region.

The mysterious disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER aircraft has presented China with a tough test: As the world's second-largest economy, does it possess the relevant hard and soft power to handle a major emergency involving its citizens outside its jurisdiction?

The ill-fated aircraft vanished on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board, of whom 153 were Chinese nationals. Thus, understandably, China has a special interest in the incident.

The events in the 18 days since the aircraft's disappearance not only reveal China's readiness - or lack of it - for handling such an emergency, but also shines a light on its standing among its neighbours in the region. The report card is mixed.

Speedy mobilisation

To be fair to China, its mobilisation capacity was impressive.

Just hours after the disappearance of Flight MH370 was announced by the Malaysians on the morning of March 8, Beijing, at noon, set up a Joint Ministerial Conference on the Security Protection of Chinese Overseas (JMC), and mapped out its response strategy.

The JMC is headed by the Foreign Ministry, and includes representatives from government agencies, including public security, aviation, oceanic (or maritime) administration, communications, civil affairs, commerce, tourism, Customs and information.

While the Xinhua news release did not explain the set-up, this is likely to be a permanent committee set up to help coordinate efforts involving Chinese nationals overseas. Setting up such a collaborative committee had been a suggestion of the state security commission.

Thanks to the JMC's swift decision, the first Chinese civilian and naval vessels were able to reach the presumed site - where the aircraft was said to be when it lost contact with air traffic control, in the Gulf of Thailand - by the next day, on March 9.


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