Sino-Malaysian ties robust enough to overcome current tensions: Experts

Sino-Malaysian ties robust enough to overcome current tensions: Experts

BEIJING - Sino-Malaysian ties will hit some short-term turbulence due to tensions over the missing MH370, but the bilateral relationship is strong enough to ride out any negative impact over the long haul, say analysts.

Concerns about bilateral ties have climbed in recent days as Beijing ramped up criticisms against Kuala Lumpur over its investigations into why and how the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) plane carrying 153 Chinese nationals has gone missing since March 8.

Piqued at what they deemed to be confusing information from the Malaysian government and poor welfare by MAS officials, Chinese relatives have threatened hunger strikes, staged protests at the Malaysian embassy in Beijing, and hurled insults at the Malaysian Ambassador at briefings, with some demanding that he kneels down and apologises.

Malaysia, in turn, has become more defensive, which may not help ties, say analysts. They cited Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein's remarks on Wednesday comparing the Chinese reactions to the rational behaviour in Australia.

"The implied meaning is that the Chinese have been irrational in their behaviour. We can expect short-term impact on ties," said Dr Ian Storey, a senior fellow at Singapore's Institute of South- east Asian Studies.

People-to-people interaction has already suffered, with reports on declining Chinese tourist arrivals in Malaysia.

Jinan University's Sino-ASEAN expert Zhang Mingliang said bilateral ties have been affected as the MH370 incident exposed flaws in the two countries' cooperation.

"China has been pressing for more intelligence from Malaysia, which appears to be more willing to share with the United States instead," he noted.

Professor Zhang believes that the current tensions may also affect Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's planned visit to China to mark 40 years of diplomatic ties.

China, which extended the invitation during President Xi Jinping's visit to Malaysia last October, may push it back if the plane remains missing, he added.

On Wednesday, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin told reporters that the Prime Minister still plans to visit China in May when asked whether the current crisis has damaged ties with Beijing.

Pointing out that the Chinese Foreign Ministry has yet to confirm Datuk Seri Najib's visit, Prof Zhang said: "China may want to keep the option of postponing the visit open... given the adverse public sentiments."

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