A chance to build on spirit of cooperation

A chance to build on spirit of cooperation
Members of the public writing messages of hope and support for the families of those on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport observation deck on Sunday.

Although the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 is undeniably tragic, something positive may come out of it.

Regional maritime security forces are involved simultaneously in search and rescue, and humanitarian assistance, disaster relief operations. The resulting cooperation presents a useful opportunity to build confidence and thus make unwanted maritime confrontations less likely in the future.

Arguments over territorial claims in the South China Sea have been put on hold. Instead, there is bilateral and multilateral cooperation aimed at finding the missing craft, and rescuing victims when found.

The 26 countries involved include Australia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, the United States, and Vietnam.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama have even spoken by phone to coordinate the operations.

Things were very different before MH370 disappeared. The region's media was preoccupied with the deployment of Chinese maritime security forces in disputed waters in the South China Sea. It was a situation that tended to thwart rather than foster regional maritime peace and stability.

During the Chinese navy's largest-ever joint fleet exercise last November, for example, a vessel escorting the refurbished aircraft carrier Liaoning was involved in a near collision with the Aegis cruiser USS Cowpens. Another example was the harassment of the USNS Impeccable by Chinese maritime surveillance vessels in international waters last July.

This is an appropriate moment for the Asia-Pacific region to take a fresh look at the role of its maritime security forces.

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