China and the World

Anger grows

Backlash against Malaysia escalates in China


It’s open season on Malaysia for China’s Tinseltown, with a flurry of film stars condemning the handling of the disappearance of flight MH370 to their millions of weibo followers.

Zhang Ziyi, the actress, castigated the Malaysian government for failing to respect “the universal quest for truth”, while Chen Kun, an actor, slammed “clownish prevarication and lies” before demanding a boycott of Malaysian goods.

Tian Liang – a former diving champion and now an actor – took aim at the investigation too: “Every day in the mornings it’s time for spreading the rumours; the afternoon is time for clarifying them; and by evening it’s time for guessing… the only thing that Malaysia doesn’t want you to know is where the plane is. How many facts haven’t been released? How many leads haven’t been followed? Without explanations, how can the lost souls leave peacefully? We need the truth!”

Li Ai, another actress, felt conspiracy theories were being oversold, although her reasoning won’t please the Malaysian audience. “They don’t know what they are doing, and they always muck things up,” Li wrote on weibo. “It would be too difficult for them to conspire against the rest of the world. It overestimates their capabilities.”

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said last week that data showed the flight had “ended in the southern Indian Ocean”. But the news – which seems to have been communicated to some of the relatives of missing passengers by text message – did little to lessen their frustration. “We are highly concerned with Malaysia’s conclusion, and have demanded full information and the evidence that supports the conclusion,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei also said.

The authorities then tolerated a rare public protest in Beijing, with family members chanting “Malaysian government has cheated us” and “Malaysia, return our relatives” on a march to the country’s embassy. Others flew to Malaysia to insist on the release of information. They staged another protest with banners demanding: “We want evidence, truth, dignity” and “Hand us the murderer. Tell us the truth. Give us our relatives back.”

Malaysia is starting to feel the wider impact of Chinese anger. A leading travel operator is giving refunds on tours including Malaysian Airlines flights, while Legal Evening News predicts that Chinese visitors will drop by as much as half on last year’s 1.7 million total.

Chinese investors put more money into Malaysian real estate last year than any other market except the US and the UK. But analysts expect enthusiasm to dwindle here too. “For now, marketing homes in Malaysia is going to be a bit awkward. It’s just like how we don’t market homes in Japan to Chinese customers,” a real estate broker in Beijing told the Wall Street Journal.

The Chinese government has dispatched a special envoy to Kuala Lumpur to push for more information. But it doesn’t want to undermine its broader relations with Malaysia, which are generally better than with others in the region. So China Daily tried to dial down the tension on Monday by warning against “irrational words and behaviour” that might harm “national interests, making all Chinese people pay for the tragedy”.

“No matter how distressed we are and how many details that are not clear, it is certain that flight MH370 crashed in the Indian Ocean and no one on board survived,” the editorial advised. “Although the Malaysian government’s handling of the crisis has been quite clumsy, we need to understand this is perhaps the most bizarre incident in Asian civil aviation history. ”

But there were signs that Malaysians are getting fed up with the Chinese reaction to the missing flight. “Let me ask you something,“ a government official told the South China Morning Post. “Which country do you think would allow others from another country to come and let them stay in a nice hotel and throw insults? We’ve been very nice already. I hope they realise that.”

James Chin, a political science professor in Selangor, agreed that Malaysians think that the protests have gone too far. “Marching to the embassy was the turning point. It’s hypocrisy,” Chin told the SCMP. “The Chinese wouldn’t dare do anything like that against their own government, which is one of the most opaque in the world.”

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