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What Flight MH370 Tells Us About the US in Asia

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What Flight MH370 Tells Us About the US in Asia

In the wake of a terrible tragedy, the U.S. is proving why it is indispensable to the Asia-Pacific region.

What Flight MH370 Tells Us About the US in Asia
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It’s been over a week since Flight MH370 dropped out of contact, and it seems as though it has vanished off the face of the earth. At first, people in China were full of hope—they lit candles and prayed, hoping that the plane had simply gotten lost and would appear the next instant on radar or a small island. The Malaysian authorities hemmed and hawed, contradicting themselves in their remarks. Despite this, most of the Chinese people, who think the best of people, still consciously and stubbornly resisted the temptation of “conspiracy theories”—until the Malaysian prime minister, in a press conference, confirmed the same conjectures and “conspiracy theories” they had previously denied.

It seems increasingly likely that this incident was a terrorist hijacking! Malaysian officials even claimed that the plane may have already landed when it made contact with a satellite! The U.S. media pointed out that the plane’s flight was similar to tactical avoidance maneuvers. The son-in-law of Osama Bin Laden also revealed that a pilot once made plans to hijack an airplane… At present, the number of countries participating in the search has increased from 14 to 26. Malaysia has even begun to ask for the help from central Asian countries to look for the lost plane. The relatives of those aboard, who thought that plane must have suffered a grim fate, have renewed their hope. For them, understandably, a “terrorist hijacking” is not worse than a “fatal crash.”

In the MH370 incident, China may suffer the largest loss of life. Malaysia may run into an unexpected drop in tourism recession and financial problems. It is rare for a pilot to hijack a plane, and to create such a large incident is even rarer. This will fundamentally shake the world’s confidence in the reputation and national governance of Malaysia. Vietnam’s efforts seem to have been in vain and the neighboring countries are still in shock. Only the United States, with its indisputable soft and hard power, uses the incident of Flight 370 to wordlessly announce: I have returned to Asia!

If an air crash occurs in the Americas, the United States would be the unquestioned leader of an investigation. If such an incident happened in Europe, both France and the UK have considerable strength, and the U.S. would also rush to assist. If in Africa, the U.S., UK, Germany and France would rush to the rescue. But what about Asia? Which country should Malaysia have turned to in the first moment to seek help? In the past twelve days spent searching for both the plane and the truth, the U.S. has not only shown itself as alone in possessing the most sophisticated search and rescue technology, but has also displayed advanced human intelligence that far surpasses that of all other countries in this region. Didn’t all of the information finally confirmed as correct come from the U.S. media and “relevant persons” in America?

There are three pillars for the U.S. to return to Asia. First, to strengthen alliance relationships such as those between the U.S. and Japan, South Korea and Australia. Second, to effectively manage relations with China, which is the so-called “new type great power relations.” Third, to use American soft and hard power to demonstrate its irreplaceable role in the Asia-Pacific region. The MH370 incident thus provides a rare opportunity for America.

As a terrorist hijacking of Flight 370 seems more and more likely, the U.S. shows the Asian countries that terrorist attacks like 9-11 are not far removed from Asia. If this incident turns out to have been caused by terrorists, it will be the largest terrorist attack that China has suffered from at the international level and would be similar to the United States’ experience of 9-11. The U.S. has repeatedly asked Asian countries (especially in those Southeast Asia) for their understanding and support of its anti-terrorist efforts in Afghanistan, but the responses have been lukewarm. In the future, could this situation change?

In a few days, the Nuclear Security Summit will take place in the Netherlands. The Nuclear Security Summit, launched by the rather apologetic Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama, is a global summit that aims to advocate for nuclear safety and fight against nuclear terrorism. The first summit in 2010 was held in Washington, with its main goal to strengthen international cooperation to respond to the threat of nuclear terrorism.” But the summit became a negotiation between the U.S. and Russia about reducing nuclear weapons and ended fruitlessly. In 2012, the theme of the second nuclear summit held in Seoul, South Korea, was to improve the security of nuclear materials and nuclear facilities, but Japan successfully changed the topic and made participating countries pay more attention to the North Korean nuclear threat. Both of these summits attracted the attendance of heavyweight leaders such as the Chinese president, had high standards, and saw much activity, but looking back, it’s hard to see what the results were.

The third Nuclear Security Summit will be held next seek in The Hague from March 24 to 25, 2014. There will be 53 countries, 4 international organizations, 58 leaders and thousands of delegates and reporters attending the summit. The main goal of this international summit is to prevent nuclear terrorism on a global scale. If terrorists get  a hold of knives, they can kill people; they can remorselessly turn a plane into a weapon. It is not hard to imagine what the result would be if they obtain nuclear materials or weapons. If only for this reason, this session of summit cannot and should not be an ineffective high-level show, where top leaders merely get together and shake hands. It’s an opportunity for the Nuclear Security Summit and a chance for Obama to use this platform to establish his legacy.

The MH370 incident is still ambiguous and the truth has not been revealed to the world. The priority is to search for the plane, rescue the victims and find the truth — not to make up “conspiracy theories” about the United States. But when disaster strikes, it’s easier to see the extent of national power and the chess matches among each country. China should learn from this and realize that terrorism is not limited to the Middle East, Europe and New York. It has already come close to China, and even taken place within Chinese territory. Moreover, the rise of a great power doesn’t mean a huge army with even more massive military spending. Rather, it means practical, high-tech military technology and advanced equipment. Finally, a responsible big power must be deeply involved in regional and international affairs, to make the world feel the significance and necessity of its existence.

This piece originally appeared in Chinese on Yang Hengjun’s blog. The original post can be found here.

Yang Hengjun is a Chinese independent scholar, novelist, and blogger. He once worked in the Chinese Foreign Ministry and as a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC. Yang received his Ph.D. from the University of Technology, Sydney in Australia. His Chinese language blog is featured on major Chinese current affairs and international relations portals and his pieces receive millions of hits. Yang’s blog can be accessed at