from Asia Unbound

Can Malaysia Restore Its Public Image?

March 19, 2014

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

Of course, 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 a relatively favorable image as a peaceful and multi-ethnic nation that had witnessed some of the strongest economic growth in Asia.

The ten-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 behaviors. It took nearly a week after the start of a multinational search off the waters off Malaysia’s east coast before the government revealed that it had data suggesting the plane had actually flown in the other direction. Malaysia also has released conflicting stories of when the plane’s communication with the ground was turned off, and who turned it off, and it also has released unclear information of who might be a suspect in the plane’s demise and what evidence has been collected regarding potential suspects.

Can Malaysia turn it around, regaining the trust of neighboring states, the international community, aviation experts, and, most importantly, the relatives of passengers from the missing flight? It’s not impossible, and restoring trust will be critical for the multinational search effort to be successful. Kuala Lumpur needs to immediately—and I mean, immediately—take several steps.

To read more on what Malaysia needs to do to salvage its image, go to my new piece at Bloomberg Businessweek.