Malaysian Plane’s Unprecedented Disappearance Deepens Asian Tensions


(Time) – After nearly a week without finding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, officials in several Asian nations are frustrated with Malaysia’s handling of the hunt

Frustration at the sluggish rate at which the Malaysian government is releasing updates on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane has rapidly turned into suspicion—with China, echoed by voices in Vietnam, and even inside Malaysia, demanding explanations as to why so much of the information released from Kuala Lumpur has been vague and contradictory.

It has been six days now since MH370, carrying 239 passengers, vanished over the ocean en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. The absence of solid information released by Malaysia, which is leading the search, has been filled with bursts of wild conjecture from officials and media that has compounded the anxiety, confusion and grief of relatives and friends of those missing.

Air force chief Gen. Rodzali Daud was quoted in local media on Tuesday saying that the plane had changed course toward the Strait of Malacca, sparking rumors that it may not have crashed. Later however he denied making the statement, despite a high-ranking officialconfirming the report. Then on Wednesday, Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said officials had detected radar signals that they thought might be from MH370, but that it had taken them four days to release the data.

Vietnam, one of the first countries to join the hunt for the plane, is among those growing increasingly frustrated by Malaysia’s messaging. Local and international media have spent the last three days lingering in airless rooms at the air traffic command center on Phu Quoc Island, southwest of Ho Chi Minh City, awaiting updates. But they have gleaned little. Vietnam has deployed planes and ships to aid the operation, and Thursday morning scrambled four aircraft following the release of Chinese satellite images that appeared to show large chunks debris floating in the South China Sea. Pilots returned having spotted nothing.

China’s subsequent admission that the images were released “by mistake” has added further strain to a search operation unprecedented in both size and its extent of multi-party cooperation. Beijing itself berated the Malaysian government over Kuala Lumpur’s perceived stalling, with China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Qin Gang stressing on March 10 that Malaysian authorities should “step up their efforts and speed up their investigation.”

The Malaysian government has defended itself, with Defence Minister Hussein telling reporterson Wednesday that, “It’s only confusion if you want it to be seen to be confusion.” But it is receiving growing domestic flak. “Malaysians have come to accept that their leaders don’t answer questions,” prominent lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan told the New York Timesyesterday. “When you are not seriously challenged in any meaningful way, of course you get complacent and comfortable.”

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