Sunday, March 16, 2014

China's Frustration (MH370)

Two articles on China's impotent fury and inability to influence or affect the outcome of the MH370 search.

CNA: Malaysia under fresh fire over handling of plane crisis

16 Mar 2014

BEIJING: China spearheaded fresh criticism on Sunday of Malaysia's handling of a missing airliner drama, saying it "squandered" precious time and resources by releasing dramatic information on the plane's fate a full week after it vanished.

Prime Minister Najib Razak revealed a day earlier that an investigation indicates Malaysia Airlines flight 370 was deliberately diverted and flew for several hours after leaving its intended flight path, though he stopped short of saying it was hijacked.

The startling revelation after a week of confusion and competing theories, prompted questions over how long Malaysian authorities had been privy to the new data, and whether they had missed an opportunity to intercept the diverted plane.

"It is undeniable that the disclosure of such vital information is painfully belated," a scathing editorial by China's state-run Xinhua news agency said, noting the "excruciating" seven days it entailed for relatives of the missing.

Its suggested Malaysian officials were guilty of an "intolerable" dereliction of duty.

Two-thirds of the passengers on board the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing were Chinese.

There was particular anger and frustration that Malaysia had taken so long to cancel search operations in the South China Sea if it already knew the plane had doubled back and flown towards the Indian Ocean.

"And due to the absence -- or at least lack -- of timely authoritative information, massive efforts have been squandered, and numerous rumours have been spawned," the editorial said.

Najib revealed Saturday that the Boeing 777's communications systems had been manually switched off -- one after the other -- before the jet veered westward.

He cited satellite and military radar data that made investigators believe it had been deliberately diverted by someone on board and flown on for hours -- either south into the Indian Ocean or north towards South and Central Asia.

"As the leader of the international search and rescue mission, Malaysia bears inescapable responsibility," it added.

There was similar outrage among users of the micro-blogging network Weibo -- China's version of Twitter.

"The Malaysian government's behaviour in this affair can be summed up in one word: 'deceptive'," said one typical comment.

The now week-long search for the Boeing 777 initially focused on waters in the South China Sea between Malaysia and Vietnam, where the plane disappeared from primary radar on March 8.

Much of the data confirmed by Najib had already been leaked in the US media, but it was only on Saturday that he announced the end of search operations in the South China Sea.

The prime minister insisted that Malaysia had not allowed national security concerns to prevent the "real time" sharing of confidential information with other authorities.

"We understand the desperate need for information ... but we have a responsibility to the investigation and the families to only release information that has been corroborated," he said.

Malaysia Airlines also issued a statement defending the delay between acquisition of the satellite and radar data and Najib's statement.

"It was critical that the raw satellite signals were verified and analysed ... so that their significance could be properly understood.

"This naturally took some time, during which we were unable to publicly confirm their existence," the statement said, adding that validating new information before releasing it would remain "paramount".

But security and aviation experts continued to question why so many resources were deployed in searching the South China Sea for so long, and how the Malaysian military had failed to identify the plane as it backtracked over the peninsula.

"It is an astonishing failure of security," said Ajaj Sahni, executive director of India's Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi.

"And it seems an astonishing failure of technology in every aspect that something like this could happen."

Terence Fan, an aviation expert at the Singapore Management University, said Malaysia's crisis management was flawed and had tested public confidence.

"Why did they need days to 'corroborate' from their own radar images that the airplane could have turned west?" Fan said.

"Couldn't they have known from day one that the different communications systems on the aircraft were turned off at different times?" he added.

- AFP/nd

TODAY: Malaysia’s handling of lost MH370 irritates China

March 16

BEIJING — The search for a missing jetliner with Chinese travellers aboard has revealed the limits of Beijing’s influence in its own backyard and left communist leaders facing outrage from their public.

Beijing has demanded Malaysia do more to find the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner. But despite sending nine ships to help in the search, China appears to have little leverage over its far smaller Southeast Asian neighbour.

The situation is especially uncomfortable for Chinese leaders because part of the ruling Communist Party’s claim to a monopoly on power is that it is best qualified to look after the public’s interests. The rise of social media and the increased willingness of China’s public to assert its rights adds to the pressure to find the 154 Chinese among the 227 missing passengers.

There is “very likely a lot more pressure from the domestic community in China on Beijing to make sure that Chinese nationals are being protected”, said Mr Marc Lanteigne, research director at the New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre at Victoria University of Wellington.

Anxious relatives have thronged a temporary Malaysia Airlines office set up in a Beijing hotel and accused Malaysian officials and the carrier of withholding information.

“Some of the information released by the Malaysian government and airline turns out to be true, some turns out to be false,” said Ms Nan Jinyan, a woman from Shanghai whose brother-in-law was aboard the flight. “I believe they are still deciding which information to release and which isn’t convenient to release right now.”

China has the world’s second-largest military budget, at US$114 billion (S$144 billion) last year, and has spent heavily on expanding the ability of its navy to project power farther from its shores. But the search that began in the Gulf of Thailand on the edge of the South China Sea, which China claims as its territorial waters, has relied heavily on expertise from the United States and Britain on the other side of the globe.

China is the biggest trading partner for most of its Asian neighbours,
buying tens of billions of dollars’ worth of raw materials and components from them annually. Yet despite such incentives for cooperation, countries from Vietnam to Australia are uneasy about China’s ambitions, which has hampered its efforts to acquire influence.

Beijing has resorted to taking the unusual step of publicly haranguing Malaysia’s government, a sign that whatever pressure it is applying in private is failing to produce results.

After Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said yesterday (March 15) that the Boeing 777 might have flown beyond the current search area, Beijing reacted with fury, a sign that the announcement took it by surprise.

A deputy Chinese foreign minister demanded “more thorough and accurate information” about the new search area.

A stinging commentary by China’s official Xinhua News Agency accused Malaysia and the United States of dragging their feet.

“Given today’s technology, the delay smacks of either dereliction of duty or reluctance to share information in a full and timely manner,” Xinhua said. It said Malaysia “bears inescapable responsibility”.

Xinhua said the plane’s manufacturer, Boeing, and the maker of its engines, Britain’s Rolls Royce, as well as “intelligence superpower the United States”, with access to valuable information, “should also have done a better job.”

China’s unusually vehement public reaction has “gone beyond the diplomatic”
, said Mr Carlyle Thayer, professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.

“To put it in public isn’t helping,” he said.

The rise of social media in China and the growing willingness of prosperous urban residents to assert their rights have added to pressure on Beijing to find the missing travellers.

Beijing is pressing for information “to show it is being a responsible government to the relatives of the passengers (and) to the Chinese public”, said Mr Liu Shanying, a political scientist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. AP

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