When Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished from radar screens in March 2014, it triggered a chain of events that would launch the most expensive search in aviation history. Despite circumstances that one might think would forge a degree of international unity, the period since the aircraft's disappearance has been characterized by bitter disputes and anger, much of it directed at Malaysia.
The attitude and actions of Malaysia Airlines' majority shareholder, the Malaysian government, have been behind much of the consternation. The regime, unused to public scrutiny, suddenly found several agencies it operated -- the airline, air-traffic control and airports -- under an intense international spotlight, and it quickly sought other targets to blame over the disappearance than itself, leading to complaints that it was rushing to accuse people, such as the pilots, against whom there was no evidence.
In addition, officials from Vietnam and China, among other countries, criticized Malaysia's initial response to the disappearance, saying it was seriously compromised by a lack of transparency, cooperation and a reluctance to share information it perceived could harm its national security interests.
Fiercest of all Malaysia's critics was China, whose citizens made up 152 of the flight's 227 passengers. In the months after the disappearance, Chinese officials branded Malaysia's initial efforts as “chaotic,” and questioned the veracity of information coming from Malaysian officials, the South China Morning Post reported. The Chinese relatives of missing passengers were also highly vocal in their criticism of Malaysian officials, and Chinese tourism to Malaysia dropped sharply in the months following the disappearance.
Malaysia is not the only country that has been criticized for its actions during the search. The lack of cooperation between states that were all nominally allied economically and politically through trade ties and their membership of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) was branded “farcical,” by Aviation Week. The magazine cited the example of Thailand's military tracking MH370, but not communicating the data “because it wasn’t asked.”
Malaysian authorities were not spared by domestic critics either, with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim accusing the government of deliberately concealing information, according to the Telegraph.
In addition, the relatives of missing passengers have been highly critical of Malaysian authorities. A particular target of scorn was an interim report, published by Malaysia's Ministry of Transport in March of this year. Relatives described the report as “useless,” criticized it for interviewing fewer people than their own private investigation did, and alleged that Malaysian authorities were keeping information from them, the BBC reported.
Senior figures in the airline industry have also been highly critical of transparency issues involving the search. Tim Clark, president of Emirates airline, said in a 2014 interview that he was “totally dissatisfied” with the results of the investigation up until that point. In an apparent reference to Malaysia, he added that “others would like to bury it. … we have an obligation not to brush this under the carpet.”
For its part, the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak has rejected criticism of its handling of the plane's disappearance, saying that levels of cooperation with international partners were unprecedented, and pledged to continue the search.
Whether Wednesday's discovery of debris on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean will bring the search any closer to fruition is not yet certain. Further recriminations and conflict over the disappearance, however, seem likely to continue.