After severe criticism of the Malaysian policy in the Flight 370 search operation, Chinese government is trying to repair the damages that were caused by their actions. Chinese President Xi Jinping maintained a foreign policy of improving the relationship between China and Southern Asian countries including Malaysia. The aim of the policy was to isolate the old Chinese rivals: Japan and the Philippines.
After the visit of Xi to Malaysia in October, China has declared a “comprehensive strategic partnership” with the ally country. As a sign of respect and friendship and according to Chinese diplomatic tradition, two pandas were presented to a Malaysian zoo.
However, the missing Malaysian Flight 370 has changed the whole positive dynamic. Practically two-thirds of the 227 missing passengers on that flight were Chinese. Beijing stated their disapproval of how Malaysia was trying to deal with situation, claiming that it actions were not logical and poor.
Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center in Beijing, commented on the situation:
“I was surprised because Malaysia is an important part of China’s charm offensive. Chinese official reactions were quite strong, and that gave space for the Chinese people to pick up on that and run with it.”
Straight after the plane went missing, Chinese Foreign Ministry has urged Malaysia to speed the search and to provide China and the rest of the world with more accurate information regarding the search operation.
Chinese government accused Malaysian officials of the lack of transparency in the search investigation while the local media claimed that the Malaysian military is hiding something.
After Malaysia’s prime minister declared that the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean, hundred of protesters stormed the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing. Even famous Chinese stars shared their opinion through social media. Thus, actor Chen Kun called Malaysian officials “clowns” and “hooligans”, promising to boycott the country and all of its goods.
Chinese tourism agencies suspended their tourism packages, with people having no desire to go there on vacation, not even mentioning flying with the Malaysian airlines.
During the whole manifestation process, Malaysian authorities were trying to calm Chinese government and people, stating that they are doing everything in their power to find the plane. Eventually, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on March 25 announced that the search is going slow and is distracted by the Chinese satellite images that are not even related to the missing plane.
James Chin, a professor of political science at Monash University in Australia shares that at the beginning Malaysians were very sympathetic towards Chinese nation in regard of what happened but after all these protests they started getting uneasy and even angry.
“It’s hypocrisy,” James Chin told one of the Chinese mass media newspapers, “The Chinese won’t dare do anything like this against their own government, which is one of the most opaque in the world.”
Qiao Mu, who teaches international communications at Beijing Foreign Studies University claims that China is handling the situation too heavily.
“It presented a very tough image, speaking out for its own people. But later on, it found it might have overreacted, so it tried to soften its tone and adjust its stance,” he said.
Eventually, Huang Huikang, China’s ambassador to Malaysia, accused Western media of speculation and “spreading rumors” and “making use of the weak emotions of victims’ families to sow discord between Malaysia and China.”
Regardless of whether Western media is trying to stir up relationship between Malaysia and China or not, the situation between two countries is not going into any peaceful resolution and until the plane is not found, it seems the situation will become even more complicated.