MH370: Chinese simmer down after initial anger

MH370: Chinese simmer down after initial anger

The anger among Chinese citizens against Malaysia is dissipating. Indeed, there is even endorsement from the Chinese government for Kuala Lumpur's handling of the crisis.

But in the early days of the jet's disappearance, Chinese outrage was pronounced, with accusations of Malaysia mishandling the search operations and not being forthcoming with information.

Out of the 227 passengers on Flight MH370, 153 were Chinese citizens. Malaysians accounted for the second highest number among those on board, with 38 passengers and 12 crew members.

Tempers had flared several times as kin of the Chinese passengers converged on the Metropark Lido hotel in Beijing to be briefed by Malaysian officials on the difficult search efforts.

More than two dozen relatives from China have also arrived in Malaysia since last week to press for information on the search.

Four days after the plane disappeared, families threw water bottles at officials from the Malaysian government, Department of Civil Aviation and military during heated briefing sessions. Some accused the Malaysians of hiding their families.

On March 15, state news agency Xinhua said "massive efforts have been squandered, and numerous rumours have been spawned, repeatedly racking the nerves of the awaiting families".

The harsh commentary came after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that investigations found the flight had made a turn back towards the Malaysian peninsula as a result of "deliberate" action by someone on the plane.

Chinese media lambasted Malaysia then for spending resources on a pointless search in the South China Sea.

Malaysian tourism also took a hit after Datuk Seri Najib's announcement as Chinese celebrities like actress Zhang Ziyi and singer-actor Chen Kun slammed Malaysia and called for a boycott of its goods and travel there.

Pressure from Chinese and Western media had forced Malaysia to hold a technical briefing together with the Civil Aviation Administration of China to calm tempers. Wednesday's 21/2-hour session was beamed live to Beijing.

At one point, irritated by the criticism, Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein reminded China that there were many Malaysians on the plane as well.

Bickering over the plane aside, ties are warmer than ever.

Malaysia was the first ASEAN member to establish diplomatic relations with China in 1974. Mr Najib is due to visit China next month for the 40th anniversary. Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Malaysia last year.

Mr Huang Huikang, China's Ambassador to Malaysia, supported his host's handling of the search efforts. "The Chinese government never said that we were angry with the Malaysian government. We are satisfied so far with all the joint efforts," he told Malaysian media.

"I admit that the Malaysian government wasn't doing enough as Malaysia Airlines didn't adhere to standard operating procedures and inconsistent facts were provided, but looking at the large scale of this unprecedented event, no one is perfect. Do not push all the blame to Malaysia," Mr Huang said.

This article was published on April 5 in The Straits Times.

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