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Can Malaysia Salvage Its Public Image?

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia
March 18, 2014
Bloomberg.com

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The Malaysian government probably has done more over the past week to undermine the international image of Malaysia than anyone in the country's nearly 60 years as an independent nation.

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 relatively favorable notice as a peaceful, multiethnic nation that had enjoyed some of the strongest economic growth in Asia. The government capitalized on this image as a welcoming and wealthy nation with an effective tourism campaign, launched in the late 1990s, called "Malaysia Truly Asia." This campaign helped make Malaysia a leading destination. (The latest tourism push, dubbed "Visit Malaysia Year," included scores of events, a monkey mascot—and tragic headlines unrelated to the missing plane.)

The 10-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 behavior. Nearly a week after the start of a multinational search off the waters off Malaysia's east coast, the government revealed it had data suggesting the plane had flown in the other direction. Malaysia also released conflicting stories of when the plane's communication with the ground was turned off, who turned it off, vague information as to who might be a suspect, and uncertain details about evidence collected.

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