China’s Criticism Over Handling of Missing Flight Stirs Malaysian Backlash


(NYTimes) – The Chinese government’s unrelenting criticism of Malaysia’s handling of the disappearance of Flight 370 and an angry protest outside the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing this week have produced a nationalistic backlash here.

Social media in Malaysia has been flooded with criticism of China this week, with many noting that Malaysians as well as Chinese died on the Malaysia Airlines flight. Many on Malay-language social media contend that China is wrong to assail Malaysia during the national mourning that began Monday night, when Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the flight had disappeared into the stormy waters of the southern Indian Ocean.

Chinese officials’ demands for greater transparency by the Malaysian government in its investigation of Flight 370 have been met with online retorts that China itself has one of the world’s most opaque governments. Many here have been particularly dismayed that relatives and friends of Chinese passengers were able to break through thin screens of police officers in Beijing and march to the Malaysian Embassy.

“I don’t agree with their activities because Malaysia has made a big effort to find the plane,” said Muhamad Hairi Sulaiman, a 35-year-old telecom technician, as he left a special prayer session for Flight 370 passengers and crew at the cavernous National Mosque here Thursday night. “The general view of my friends is that we are shocked that they are biased against Malaysians.”

Graphic | Areas of Search for Malaysian Jet Satellite imagery captured near the Australian search areas shows objects that officials said could be related to the missing Malaysian plane.

The burst of nationalism here is in some ways a relief for the Malaysian government, since Internet users had castigated Kuala Lumpur in the first days after the Boeing 777-200 vanished.

By contrast, Malaysian newspapers and television, controlled by pro-government business leaders, were circumspect about the government’s repeated release of contradictory information in the early days, and said little about the air force’s failure to react as the plane turned around and flew back over the country nearly unnoticed.

Yet public hostility toward China also holds risks for the Malaysian government. China is the nation’s biggest trading partner and one of its largest foreign investors. Chinese tourists throng Malaysia’s resorts and shopping malls, one reason that more than 150 of the 239 people aboard the Beijing-bound flight were Chinese.

Malaysian officials have been low-key in their response to China’s anger. They even asked for China’s help on Thursday in seeking to assuage the anger of the family and friends of passengers aboard the flight, as bad weather over the southern Indian Ocean forced another interruption on Thursday afternoon of an aerial search to find traces of the plane.

Malaysian officials asked Huang Huikang, China’s ambassador to Malaysia, “to request the government of China to engage and clarify the actual situation to the affected families in particular and the Chinese public in general,” Malaysia’s transport ministry said in a statement Thursday evening.

The pro-establishment New Straits Times weighed in with an editorial on Thursday noting that China had nuclear weapons and the world’s largest standing army in addition to the world’s second-largest economy after the United States, and concluded that, “In short, China is a friend not to be antagonized.”

Read more here