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Can Malaysia Restore Its Public Image?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
March 19, 2014

malaysia-flight-family-briefing Relatives of passengers onboard missing flight MH370 complain to an official from Malaysia Airlines after the company's briefing to family members at a hotel in Beijing on March 19, 2014. Investigations into the mystery of the missing Malaysian jet appeared to be at a deadlock on Wednesday, with an exhaustive background search of the passengers and crew showing nothing untoward and no sign that the plane could be quickly found (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Courtesy: Reuters).


The Malaysian government probably has done more over the past week to undermine the international image of Malaysia than anyone else in the country’s nearly sixty years as an independent nation.

Of course, for most of those six decades until the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 the country received little international attention. If Malaysia made the news at all, it tended to get a relatively favorable image as a peaceful and multi-ethnic nation that had witnessed some of the strongest economic growth in Asia.

The ten-day period since the mysterious disappearance of Flight 370 has seen the Malaysian government present to the world a concoction of false leads and conflicting answers alongside seemingly evasive behaviors. It took nearly a week after the start of a multinational search off the waters off Malaysia’s east coast before the government revealed that it had data suggesting the plane had actually flown in the other direction. Malaysia also has released conflicting stories of when the plane’s communication with the ground was turned off, and who turned it off, and it also has released unclear information of who might be a suspect in the plane’s demise and what evidence has been collected regarding potential suspects.

Can Malaysia turn it around, regaining the trust of neighboring states, the international community, aviation experts, and, most importantly, the relatives of passengers from the missing flight? It’s not impossible, and restoring trust will be critical for the multinational search effort to be successful. Kuala Lumpur needs to immediately—and I mean, immediately—take several steps.

To read more on what Malaysia needs to do to salvage its image, go to my new piece at Bloomberg Businessweek.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Peter McGill

    In 1990, I flew from Tokyo, where I was based, to Kuala Lumpur to cover the Malaysian general election for The Observer. In spite of being the only non-resident journalist assigned to cover the election, the government stonewalled every request for an interview. Finally, I was told that I might be able to catch the prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, during a campaign walkabout of a public housing project. He must have been warned in advance, because every time he saw me, he broke into a trot. I never managed to speak to him, or squeeze any comment from his government, although I did interview several opposition leaders. Apart from suspicion and hostility towards foreign journalists, the other thing I remember from that trip was the wet concrete of the new hotel where I stayed in KL.

  • Posted by Max

    Malaysia is the country in SEAsia where resentment of Chinese settlers is mostly openly expressed. It is key for the ruling party’s electoral coalition. My guess is that this event will see such sentiment have an increasing influence in KL’s diplomatic/military fields.

    Also, with regard to the comment above, what is being described would seem common enough in a petro-state with an entrenched but non-technocratic elite.

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