Plane tragedy reminder of cooperation’s value

Source:Global Times Published: 2014-3-11 20:03:05

(Xinhua photo)

Grief is permeating within and beyond China. It has been four days since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 with 239 people onboard went missing over the South China Sea en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The disappearance of the Boeing 777-200, one of the safest aircraft, remains enveloped in mystery.

Late response and little updates on the tragedy left families of the missing passengers and crew members, the general public and media scolding Malaysia Airlines, especially after it announced it was "fearing for the worst." But singling out the airline isn't the right solution.

The tragedy should serve as a sober reminder that all airlines throughout the world should strengthen efforts in security checks in a very prudent way at borders and boarding gates as well as among the security staff, because stolen passports, illegal migration or transboundary trade are all likely to be breeding grounds for terrorism.

Nonetheless, the accident has sparked rare cooperation among countries that have been at loggerheads with each other over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Some 11 countries from Asia, North America and Oceania have dispatched aircraft, ships and teams of experts to engage in the search and rescue operation.

The international efforts at search and rescue illustrate that nations in a quagmire of bitter disputes can cooperate in one of the most complicated areas in the world when extreme events happen.

It reminds us that chronic contention over the South China Sea should be addressed through peaceful consultation and negotiation because it is much less important than natural or unnatural disasters that threaten people's lives.

A series of disasters ranging from the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004 to typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines last year, and to this air disaster have demonstrated that countries can only tackle man-made or natural catastrophes via effective cooperation. Humanitarian aid to cope with such calamities calls for bilateral or multilateral cooperation based on clear mechanisms.

China has already put in place several mechanisms with relevant states in the South China Sea, including joint rescue operations and military drills. But they need to be further fleshed out and implemented on a regular basis.

In parallel, regional stakeholders should establish a cooperation mechanism in airspace over the South China Sea. We have attached importance to maritime institutions but ignored aviation safety.

The Malaysia Airlines incident and the consequent daunting search remind us of the indispensability of an airspace cooperation mechanism to help break the restrictions and allow naval and air forces from pertinent countries to come to rescue as soon as possible.

Besides, China and ASEAN should establish a multilateral security cooperation mechanism over the South China Sea. Washington should also get involved in the mechanism since it is experienced with and capable of tackling both traditional and non-traditional threats.

For instance, US intelligence agencies are in possession of database on terrorist groups, passports and illegal transnational activities, which could help track incidents.

While there is concern that US participation may disturb the geopolitical order in the Asia-Pacific region, we should bear in mind that common interests prevail in the face of human tragedies.

And the multilateral security mechanism should incorporate military security cooperation with a full-fledged preparation system. Military constitutes the principal force in disaster response, which is an international practice. And a mature and prepared institution is more important than merely a pre-warning or precaution system over the sensitive area.

The Chinese government should adopt a more open attitude toward the existing cooperation mechanisms and setting up a new one to better handle contingencies.

Given that the majority of passengers onboard are Chinese, including 153 Chinese nationals and many others are believed to be of Chinese origin, the government must assume the responsibility to protect all Chinese people, no matter whether they are Chinese nationals or overseas Chinese, by beefing up connections and networking with other stakeholders in the South China Sea.

Now search and rescue teams are sparing no efforts in this joint endeavor by casting a wide net over the vast sea area.

We are praying for the 239 lives and waiting for a miracle.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Wang Xiaonan based on an interview with Zhuang Guotu, director of the Research School for Southeast Asian Studies, Xiamen University.

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