Less than six months ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping made his first-ever visit to Malaysia to usher in what China’s state media dubbed a “new era” in Sino-Malaysian relations, as the two countries agreed to increase trade and cooperate on everything from agriculture to energy. “It’s a miracle that so many achievements have been made within such a short period of time,” Tan Khai Hee, secretary general of the Malaysia-China Friendship Association, told Xinhua after the October visit.
The short-lived new era between the long-time allies ended abruptly this month, with the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. Chinese officials and citizens alike are furious with the Malaysian government over what they see as ineptness and incomplete disclosure over the fate of the Beijing-bound plane that had 154 Chinese citizens aboard. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak finally confirmed late on March 24 that MH370 “ended in the Indian Ocean.”
On March 25, Chinese families of the passengers on the Malaysia Airlines flight that crashed in the Indian Ocean staged a rare protest march in Beijing that ended in front of the Malaysian Embassy, where they shouted “Liars, tell us the truth.” Protesters numbered in the hundreds, observers said, and were allowed to march and mass in front of the embassy, indicating that their protest was probably sanctioned by the Beijing government.
The families also issued a scathing statement accusing the Malaysian government of deception and—if delays in the search led to the death of those aboard—outright murder:
18 days have passed during which the Malaysian government and military constantly tried to delay, deceive the passengers’ families and cheat the whole world.
This shameless behavior not only fooled and hurt the families of the 154 passengers but also misguided and delayed rescue actions, wasting a large quantity of human resources and materials and lost valuable time for the rescue effort. If our 154 relatives aboard lost their lives due to such reasons, then Malaysia Airlines, the Malaysian government and the Malaysian military are the real murderers that killed them.
Officials are forcefully speaking out. “We demand that Malaysia provide all available information and evidence on how it reached this conclusion,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei on March 25, hours after another Foreign Ministry official made the same demand. China’s government only learned of the news that the plane had changed direction—and that China’s search efforts were in the wrong place—when the Malaysian government held a press conference about it, days after it was reported in the media, Hong said earlier.
China’s state-run media has also been hammering away at the Malaysians. “With all the satellite data available, why did it take so long to come to this conclusion?,” asked a television anchor in a CCTV broadcast, in one of many commentaries and articles questioning Malaysia’s conduct. A discussion about the Malaysian prime minister’s statement that the plane had crashed, conducted on Chinese blogging site Sina Weibo, had over 13 million participants by mid-day March 25 and tens of thousands of comments, many of them aimed at the Malaysian government:
“The Malays must give an explanation. The Chinese people are not fools,” read one message. “Never go to Malaysia as a tourist,” read another. More than 75 percent of citizens who participated in an online poll on Sina said the Malaysian government’s handling of the situation would influence their decisions about whether to travel there. The outcry is so vehement that one Malaysian politician suggested the government censor the Internet to keep angry Chinese from rioting and torturing Malaysians.
Malaysia Airlines said it would give $5,000 in financial assistance to the family of each missing passenger, but had little additional information to offer in a press conference at noon on March 25. “We do not know why, and we do not know how this terrible tragedy happened,” said the airline’s CEO, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya.