China tries to repair Malaysia ties damaged by criticism of Flight 370 probe


(Washington Post) – The Chinese government is trying to repair damage to its ties with Malaysia after its criticism of an investigation into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 unleashed an ugly bout of nationalism and upset a country it had been trying to woo.

The hallmark of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s foreign policy in his first year in office has been an attempt to improve relations with Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, while trying to confront and isolate territorial rivals and key U.S. allies Japan and the Philippines.


The charm offensive has largely been concentrated on countries that Beijing feels it can pry out of Washington’s orbit with promises of lucrative trade deals andbillions of dollars in infrastructure investment.

In October, Xi visited the Malaysian capital and spoke lyrically about ancient historical ties and dreams of reviving a “maritime Silk Road.” China’s relationship with Malaysia was upgraded to become a “comprehensive strategic partnership,” and in a traditional Chinese diplomatic gesture of friendship, two pandas were presented to a Malaysian zoo.

But the disappearance of Flight 370 ruptured those closely nurtured ties. Two-thirds of the 227 passengers on the Boeing 777 that went missing March 8 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing were Chinese.

With Beijing’s approval, anger at Malaysia’s handling of the investigation erupted on Chinese social media and even in the streets, and trust between the two governments collapsed.

Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center in Beijing, said he was struck by the depth of the anger and how some of it was directed at the Malaysian people.

“I was surprised because Malaysia is an important part of China’s charm offensive,” he said. “Chinese official reactions were quite strong, and that gave space for the Chinese people to pick up on that and run with it.”

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