As the search for Flight MH370 drags on with each new day bringing new hopes and no results in finding the vanished passenger jet that has been missing for almost three weeks now, the ongoing mystery has created a political crisis between Malaysia and China. The Southeast Asian, mostly Muslim country of 30 million now feels “under siege,” as one government-backed newspaper put it, from its northerly neighbor of 1.5 billion people.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was headed between the capitals of the two countries, a short, routine flight, when it somehow went astray and, investigators believe, ended up thousands of miles from Beijing, crashing in the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.
Though governments of the two countries earlier declared 2014 “Malaysia-China Friendship Year,” to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two, that friendship seems to have vanished along with the missing Flight MH370.
Well over half of the vanished flight’s 239 passengers were Chinese nationals headed home. Their families have been harshly critical of the Malaysian government’s handling of the Flight MH370 crisis, seemingly with the approval, and even encouragement of the Chinese government.
A demonstration outside Malaysia’s embassy in Beijing Tuesday — the type of display that could not happen without a green light from China’s leaders — featured shouts of “murderers!” And when families of the missing passengers met Wednesday with Malaysia’s ambassador, they lambasted him as a “rogue” and a “liar.”
Now it appears that Malaysia has had about enough. When a Chinese reporter at a press conference this week hurled a pointed question at Malaysia’s transportation minister Hishammuddin Hussein about what he called the delays in Malaysia’s response to the missing Flight MH370, the minister replied sharply that bad satellite data from the Chinese sent the search on a wild goose chase.
“History will judge us well,” said the transport minister later.
“Anybody who has gone through this, what we have gone through has indicated to me that we have done quite an admirable job,” he added. “For the Chinese families there, they must also understand that we in Malaysia have also lost loved ones.”
He was referring to the fact that Flight MH370 also carried 50 Malaysian citizens.
The state-controlled Malay Mail newspaper published an editorial calling on Malaysians to defend their country’s “reputation and honor.”
“Countries whom we call friends must now do more to prove their friendship,” it said. “These governments seem happy to allow their citizens to complain and even accuse us of withholding information.”
But even the editor of an independent Malaysian news outlet hit back at the Chinese attacks. China has also been searching for Flight MH370 and come up just as empty as everyone else, said Jahabar Sadiq of the online Malaysian Insider.
“The search for this missing plane has shown them the limits of their technology, their muscle,” he said of the Chinese attempts to find Flight MH370. “It puts China in its place.”
[Images via BIng and Thai Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency]