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Aviation

China slams Malaysian probe into missing plane

More than a week after Flight MH370 vanished in midair, China has become increasingly critical of what it considers to be the mishandling of information and the slow pace of the investigation by Malaysian authorities.

The criticism engulfing the Malaysian government over the handling of the investigation in the aftermath of the jetliner's disappearance has intensified over the last couple of days. The strong reactions follow Prime Minister Najib Razak's statement on March 15 that the missing plane was deliberately diverted from its intended path and flew for several hours in one of the two possible corridors stretching from Kazakhstan in Central Asia down to the southern Indian Ocean.

The announcement prompted angry responses from family members and friends of the people on board. "You (Malaysia) hid the whereabouts from the beginning and after seven to eight days you discovered it? That was the best time to launch a rescue," Wen Wancheng, whose son was on the missing aircraft, was quoted by AFP as saying.

"Only the Malaysia government knows the truth. They've been talking nonsense since the beginning," the 63-year-old from the Chinese province of Shandong added. On March 18, some furious Chinese families even threatened to go on a hunger strike until the Malaysian government tells them what they view as the truth about the fate of their relatives on board.

'Piecemeal information'

About two-thirds of the 239 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 were Chinese. Beijing has been sensitive to the growing frustration and anger of Chinese citizens projected at the way Kuala Lumpur has handled the situation. It also sent a 13-member team to Malaysia last week to "handle the aftermath of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight," state news agency Xinhua reported.

China's Premier Li Keqiang speaks between Prime Ministers Ivica Dacic of Serbia and Viktor Orban of Hungary (unseen) during a joint news conference in Bucharest November 25, 2013.

China's Premier Li Keqiang urged Malaysia to provide information in "timely and comprehensive manner"

Over the past week, Beijing has been increasing pressure on Kuala Lumpur to speed up its investigation into the incident. Furthermore, the government has been critical of Malaysia's sharing of information with other countries involved in the search and rescue efforts.

Speaking over phone with his Malaysian counterpart on March 17, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang asked Najib to provide more detailed data and information about the missing plane in a "timely, accurate and comprehensive manner," Xinhua reported.

Although the premier took a more measured tone, Chinese media outlets have been scathing in their criticism of the Malaysian government. For instance, an editorial published by the state-owned China Daily newspaper spoke of "contradictory and piecemeal information" provided by Malaysia Airlines and the government which "have made search efforts difficult and the entire incident even more mysterious."

"What else is known that has not been shared with the world?" the article questioned.

Simmering tensions

China's social media networks have also remained abuzz with discussions and comments related to the plane's disappearance, with many users voicing concerns and skepticism over search operations thus far.

Ernest Bower, Chair for Southeast Asia Studies at the Washington-based Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), says that although China's anger and frustration are understandable, particularly given the number of its nationals on board the missing plane, "the very public criticism and damning of Malaysian capabilities and willingness to cooperate are scaring."

China has a tendency "to whip up its nationalist sentiment, and that gets magnified through blogs and social media," Bower told DW, pointing out that regional tensions and territorial disputes underlie Malaysia's reluctance to share relevant and accurate information with China and other nations.

Several nations in the region have competing claims to vast swathes of the South China Sea, believed to be rich in oil and natural gas reserves. The underlying tensions tend to flare up sometimes resulting in occasional standoffs between naval vessels of different countries.

Security concerns

Against this backdrop, Bower argues, all countries in the region are concerned about revealing details pertaining to their national security. Malaysia, in particular, is now alarmed as the disappearance of Flight MH370 has revealed "shocking gaps" in the country's radar and surveillance capabilities, the analyst added. This failure to detect the plane has been a sensitive issue for Malaysians making them more cautious in terms of sharing information, the expert said.

Meanwhile, confusion and doubts continue to plague the ongoing investigation with the CEO of Malaysia Airlines Ahmad Jauhari Yahya recently admitting that it wasn't clear when the missing plane's critical data-transmitting system was disabled, and thus contradicting previous statements by Malaysian authorities.

US officials have also recently joined in the criticism bandwagon by alleging that Kuala Lumpur has not been sharing as much information as it could with foreign governments. But Malaysia has rejected the accusations and defended coordination with the US and China.

Military officer Dang Xuan Hung looks out a window of a Vietnam Air Force aircraft AN-26 during a mission to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, that disappeared from radar screens in the early hours of Saturday, off Con Dao island March 12, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

26 countries are now involved in the search efforts to locate the missing aircraft

'A thread of hope'

In the meantime, search efforts have been expanded to include an area covering 2.24 million square nautical miles, spanning from Australia to Kazakhstan. In a sign of international cooperation, 26 countries are now involved in the hunt for the jet, with Australia and Indonesia leading the efforts in the southern Indian Ocean and China and Kazakhstan scouring the northern corridor from Laos to the Caspian Sea.

"Factors involved in the incident continue to multiply, the area of search and rescue continues to broaden, and the level of difficulty increases, but as long as there is one thread of hope, we will continue an all-out effort," Chinese Premier Li said in a statement.