NEW: Passengers' kin protest, say they are "not satisfied" with Malaysian response
NEW: U.S. defense secretary urges Malaysian counterpart to be transparent
Malaysian authorities aren't used to heavy media scrutiny, experts say
"I think on a stress test, they're failing," an analyst says of Malaysia's government
Before the mysterious disappearance of one of its passenger jets this month, Malaysia wasn’t a country used to finding itself dominating headlines around the world.
Some of its Southeast Asian neighbors, including Indonesia and the Philippines, have suffered devastating natural disasters in recent years and are all too familiar with the media frenzy that accompanies a major crisis.
But Malaysia has largely managed to stay out of the international spotlight since its independence from British colonial rule more than half a century ago.
“It is one of these countries, because of its geography, that doesn’t have earthquakes,” said Ernest Bower, senior adviser for Southeast Asia studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It doesn’t have tsunamis. It hasn’t been tested with a disaster like this.”
The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has thrust the government into the dazzling glare of worldwide attention. And it hasn’t emerged with very good grades.
“I think on a stress test, they’re failing,” Bower told CNN’s Jake Tapper, pointing to the government’s coordination of different agencies and communication with other countries.
China among critics
Criticism and complaints have come from other countries involved in the search for the missing plane, including China and Vietnam, and from the relatives of passengers. Malaysian officials have created confusion by issuing contradictory statements on key aspects of the investigation.
The majority of the people on board the plane were Chinese, and Beijing has increasingly voiced its displeasure with the search, especially after Malaysia announced over the weekend that evidence suggested the plane had been deliberately flown west into the Indian Ocean, away from its last confirmed location over the South China Sea.
“The new information means the intensive search in the South China Sea for the whole past week was worthless and would never bear fruit,” said a commentary published by China’s state-run news agency Xinhua. “Even worse, the golden time for saving possible survivors, if any, was generously wasted.”
“It is widely asked why the Malaysian government failed to provide such crucial information as early as possible to avoid futile search by around a dozen countries,” the commentary said.
China’s Foreign Ministry urged Malaysia to keep providing more “thorough and correct information.”
Chinese family members of the missing plane’s passengers have been especially vocal, including some who loudly, emotionally demanded answers Wednesday outside the room where Malaysian authorities have been briefing reporters.
“We have been here for 10 days and (gotten) no single piece of information,” one woman who identified herself as the mother of one passengers told a horde of reporters.
“… I just don’t know where the plane has gone to. We are not satisfied with the Malaysian government’s inaction.”
Malaysian officials have defended their handling of the crisis, stressing that the situation is unprecedented.
“This is not a normal investigation,” Hishammuddin Hussein, the country’s acting defense and transport minister, said last week.
The shock of scrutiny
But some analysts say the missteps are symptomatic of a governing elite that’s grown increasingly aloof.
“Although theoretically a democracy with regular, contested elections, Malaysia has been ruled since independence by the same governing coalition that has become known for its lack of transparency and disinterest—even outright hostility—toward the press and inquiring citizens,” Joshua Kurlantzick, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in an article for Bloomberg Businessweek.