Sunday 30 March 2014

Criticism of Malaysia's handling of missing MH370 plane 'unfair': Shanmugam

By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2014

SOME of the criticism levelled at Malaysia on how it has been handling the disappearance of Flight MH370 is unfair, Singapore's Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

Calling the mystery of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane a "most unusual, bizarre situation", he noted that many theories have been put forth on what could have happened.

"I don't think enough account has been taken of the fact that there was very little to go on, very little that the Malaysians or anyone knew of the matter," he told journalists during a lunch of the Singapore Foreign Correspondents Association (FCA) at Shangri-La Hotel.

The Malaysian government has come under fire, both at home and abroad, since the Beijing- bound plane went missing after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8.

Some criticised its leaders for releasing information too slowly, while others said Prime Minister Najib Razak had jumped the gun when he announced on Monday that the plane was lost at sea in the Indian Ocean, but did not provide further verifiable proof.

China has also called for more transparency in the ongoing investigation.

Mr Shanmugam was also asked about the apparent lack of cooperation among ASEAN members during search efforts for the jet, and perceptions that there was a lack of unity due to countries' competing territorial claims in the South China Sea.

He disagreed with the suggestion, saying that there was "no lack of will" in wanting to cooperate.

The responses, Mr Shanmugam added, must also be seen in the context of the resources these countries have.

Singapore dispatched a Fokker-50 maritime patrol aircraft, a naval helicopter, two C-130 transport planes, two warships and a submarine support and rescue vessel.

Other ASEAN countries provided whatever assets they had, the minister noted, and there was no evidence to suggest any were "tardy" in their response.

ASEAN not tardy in MH370 crisis, says Shanmugam
By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 28 Mar 2014

There was no lack of cooperation in ASEAN's response to the MH370 crisis.

Singapore's Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam made this point in refuting criticisms of poor coordination among ASEAN members.

Speaking at a dialogue organised by the Foreign Correspondents Association, Mr Shanmugam said he does not believe that any of the ASEAN countries were tardy in their response and pointed to the sheer number of countries who came forward to help almost immediately.

Describing the tragedy as a "most unusual bizarre situation", Mr Shanmugam said the international community needs to recognise that it is not an easy situation for Malaysian authorities, who had very little to go on.

Mr Shanmugam was asked for his assessment on the level of cooperation among ASEAN member states in the search for the ill-fated flight and on his thoughts on international perceptions that the region was not united due to underlying tensions among several ASEAN members over the South China Sea.

He answered that there was no lack of cooperation in the way countries, not just ASEAN members, helped immediately.

The will, he said, was there, even if the ability, resources and assets varied.

"I don't believe that and I don't think that there's anything on the facts that… suggest that any of the ASEAN countries were tardy in their response in any way,” said Mr Shanmugam.

“But to put it more directly, one of the assets that you need really to locate bits and pieces of this plane or the blackbox would have been a vessel. Not a submarine, but a vessel which is submersible and can look for things under water. You ask around how many countries have that resource."

Mr Shanmugam said Singapore has such a vessel and had deployed it in the search efforts.

The dialogue, which lasted for about two hours, also touched on some local issues, such as the Singapore government's handling of the December riot in Little India and Mr Shanmugam's assessment of the support the ruling People's Action Party has, leading up to the 2016 general election.

He said what is important for the government is not a numbers game in garnering support.

"I don't want to get into a numbers game,” said Mr Shanmugam.

“I think the last thing I want to do is to say that we want to have policies in order to get from a purely political perspective, some numbers back. I think the moment you start doing that, the country will go down. We need to do what is right."

He pointed to the S$8 billion Pioneer Generation package -- a commitment by the government to pay for the healthcare costs of the first generation of Singaporeans.

"A lot of countries do these things but they make the next generation pay or they make future governments pay because they simply borrow the money. We decided we will not do that,” said Mr Shanmugam.

“We will take it out of our current account surplus and fund forward the entire cost of this universal health coverage for people above 65.

“Again, if you were thinking purely in terms of electoral calculations, you will probably not do it because a lot of governments might calculate, ‘well, if I leave open the question of whether it might be funded, then people will be more concerned’, but here everyone knows it's going to be funded. So that's now removed from the political equation.”

Responding to suggestions by some foreign media that one reason for the Little India riot was unhappiness among foreign workers, Mr Shanmugam said the fact is they chose to come and stay in Singapore.

"I'm talking about systems. What is it systematically, that makes it worse off for workers in Singapore compared with other countries?” asked Mr Shanmugam.

“With full knowledge of the facts that they want to come here and they want to stay here, and they prefer Singapore to Malaysia, to anywhere else, I would politely say, the assumptions in your questions are all not accurate.

"The point is it (a riot) has not happened here in a long time. We don't want it happening again but I do want you to look at it with perspective before you start characterising (that) this is a new Singapore, that there's a foreign worker problem.

“One of the narratives I've seen in the international media is that this shows either it is a sign of angst with the government or it's an angst with Singapore or it's an angst with the employer. I say look at the facts."

The dialogue was attended by members of the diplomatic corps and media professionals.

MH370: DAY 26
Beijing not angry with KL's actions, says Chinese envoy
By Lester Kong Malaysia Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2014

MALAYSIA has taken great pains to provide information on Malaysia Airlines' missing jet to the passengers' families in a bid to cool tempers, as China's envoy to Malaysia denied reports that Beijing was dissatisfied with Kuala Lumpur's handling of the case.

The aviation authorities yesterday gave the families of 18 passengers on board the missing Boeing 777-200ER a 2 1/2-hour briefing in Kuala Lumpur on the technical aspects of the search.

The closed-door session was beamed live via Skype to the other affected families in Beijing.

The briefing was given by Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation and the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

Two-thirds of the flight's 227 passengers were from China.

China's Ambassador to Malaysia Huang Huikang told reporters at a special press briefing yesterday that China has not blamed Malaysia, and defended Prime Minister Najib Razak over his controversial statement on March 24 that MH370 "ended" in the southern Indian Ocean, far from any land masses, even though no wreckage had been found.

"We never said that we are angry with the Malaysian government, nor did we say that we are dissatisfied with them. All of the accusations are not true," he said, the Free Malaysia Today news portal reported yesterday.

"Najib Razak has chosen the word 'ended' instead of 'crash' or 'lost'. I fully understood why because the purpose is to avoid any harmful meaning," Mr Huang added. "Chinese family members are still hoping that their loved ones are alive, thus if Najib chose the word 'crash' or 'lost', it would be a big blow to the family members."

Mr Najib's announcement sparked a protest by the families of those on the jet at the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing the following day. There is still outrage in China over Kuala Lum-pur's handling of the case, and it has led to people cancelling tours to Malaysia.

Despite the anger of Chinese families towards Malaysia over the perceived mishandling of the search and withholding of information, Mr Huang said bilateral relations between the countries had not been affected.

"Malaysia and China are family, good friends, partners and neighbours," he said.

"We have joined together to form the largest search operations ever and will continue to work together until MH370 is found," he added.

The Chinese government is still sending its panda pair, Fengyi and Fuwa, to Malaysia on April 16 in a 10-year deal to mark 40 years of diplomatic relations. Mr Najib is also due to visit China next month for the anniversary.

MASkargo, the airliner's cargo carrier, will fly the pandas on board a cargo aircraft, airline spokesman Muhammad Aniz Mohd Azmi told the South China Morning Post yesterday.

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