Monday, February 17

Malaysia must avoid ‘on-looker’ role in MH17 probe


MALAYSIA Airline flight MH17 was shot down over the skies of eastern Ukraine recently with the loss of 298 lives.

The whole world is demanding for the culprits to be brought to justice, and Malaysia – considered a rising economy but which often does not have much say in important international affairs – must take the lead in the probe to find out the truth about the incident as it was our airliner that got shot down.

A few days after the incident, Russia, joined by nations such as Germany, England, Australia and Holland, had pledged their utmost help and co-operation to get to the bottom of the shooting.

They stressed no one should take advantage of this tragic incident to attain their political ends.

Apart from giving an assurance of help, Russia did not contact Malaysia in this matter. This goes to show how the big powers regard Malaysia’s place in the MH17 episode and the investigation to follow.

To be fair, Malaysia wants to be involved as much as possible in the investigation but things are not always as simple as they seem.

For instance, Malaysia’s first astronaut could not have broken through Earth’s atmosphere and reached outer space without the help of the Russians, not to mention most of Malaysia’s firearms originate from Russia.

Some of our renowned medical partitioners also studied and graduated in Russia.

In the immediate aftermath of the MH17 tragedy, many had called on the government to take lead in the investigation but these people clearly had not thought  through the matter properly and had hastily made their judgement on Malaysia.

We must admit Malaysia has just begun rising and is still an infant compared to the developed countries, especially the big powers. We are never the centre of attraction on the international stage.

Malaysia has been practising pragmatic diplomacy as a member of the Non-Alliance Movement (NAM). Our past prime ministers Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi have both been presidents of NAM.

ASEAN can be said to be the most important organisation Malaysia has been associated with. The regional grouping has transformed since the end of the cold war. It has started aiming towards the interests of social-economic development.

One can say even though Malaysia’s diplomatic initiatives tend to tilt towards the west, it still maintains an open mind for further development and engagement with other nations.

If the government makes comments regarding the MH17 tragedy without concrete evidence or does not handle the matter well, it will not only put our country in a bad light but also cause unwanted diplomatic problems.

Looking at the prevailing situation, it seems Malaysia can only send in trained professionals to Ukraine to assist in the investigation and hope the UN Security Council will do its best to initiate a thorough and independent investigation into the tragedy.

Facing the superpowers, it’s inevitable, in most, if not all, cases for emerging nations like ours to choose to stand by the sideline or join different international organisations to seek opportunities for development – or just to survive.

The Northern Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was formed based on the interests of economic advantages and as a defence alliance, and leaders of non-NATO nations must be smart and play their cards right when dealing with the ‘superpower’ countries in the grouping.

Besides playing their cards right, a country must also own a “hand of cards” to  “play” with and gain the confidence and interests of the world’s powerful countries.

Singapore is the perfect example where China has always wanted to establish a working and economic relation with it even though the Island Republic is a “loyal friend” of the US.

Malaysia might not have the perfect “hand of cards” but it’s still considered neutral, excluding its religious policy which is close to the Arabs. If Malaysia leans towards the west over the MH17 tragedy and hopes for the US to lessen Russia’s role in the investigation, it may give rise to other problems in the future.

There is also every possibilty Russia will not give in to those European countries demanding that it be held to account for supplying the separatists in eastern Ukraine the missile system that allegely downed MH17. This fact is borne out by the number of European countries that rely on Russia for their energy supply.

In investigating the MH17 incident, this fact has to be taken into consideration and thought through properly.

The Europeans are wishing for Ukraine to side with them to counter Russia’s influence and power in the Balkans while Russia wishes to stop Ukraine from becoming a base for the Europeans.

The downing of MH17 in which most of the victims are from Europe, has opened a window of opportunity for the Europeans to increase their voice in the world high politics and power play.

Malaysia, it would seem, is a mere on-looker in this tragic episode.