Missing MH370: China surprises with flight search satellite photos, say analysts

Missing MH370: China surprises with flight search satellite photos, say analysts

BEIJING - Beijing was unusually open in revealing its satellite capabilities when it released photographs of possible debris from a missing airplane, despite taking four days to make the images public, analysts said on Thursday.

China's State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND) published three pictures late Wednesday of what it said were suspected large floating objects in the South China Sea.

The images were taken on Sunday, it said, raising questions as to why it took several days for them to emerge, and whether - and if so, when - they had been passed to the Malaysian authorities co-ordinating the search.

China's space programme is military-run and normally shrouded in secrecy.

Malaysian and Vietnamese flights in the area of the photographs failed to spot anything, officials said.

But Morris Jones, an independent space analyst based in Australia, said Beijing's disclosure of the pictures was surprisingly open. "Satellite imagery is a strategic tool that has military applications, and nations are usually very cautious in revealing how much these satellites can do and how much they can see," he told AFP.

"I am surprised that the Chinese have openly released this image because we don't normally see images of this quality." According to SASTIND, the objects were approximately 13 by 18 metres, 14 by 19 metres and 24 by 22 metres in size.

The actual images "were probably of a much higher quality than the images they released to the media", Jones said.

Authorities released them "to provide enough information to show something, but the image is degraded to hide the true capabilities of the actual satellite." While China's abilities in space remain decades behind the US, it has made rapid technological leaps and aims to launch an independent space station by 2020, eventually sending a man to the moon.

It has deployed 10 satellites in the search for MH370, Premier Li Keqiang said Thursday.

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