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Drawn-out Jetliner Search Tests China's Patience, Cooperation


The drawn-out search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 is testing the patience of the families of those on board, and testing the ability of governments in the region to cooperate.

Malaysia has increasingly come under fire as the days pass and there are more questions than answers about what happened to the missing jet.

Flight MH370 Timeline

  • Mar. 8: Departs Kuala Lumpur at 12:41am local time for Beijing
    Air traffic controllers lose contact with the plane around 1:30am
    Vietnam launches search operation, two oil slicks are spotted but are not related to plane

  • Mar. 9: Malaysia suggests plane may have strayed off course
    Debris spotted off Vietnam, but it is not from the airplane

  • Mar. 10: Search radius expanded, as China urges Malaysia to speed up investigation
  • Mar. 11: Search extended to western side of Malaysian peninsula
  • Mar. 12: Chinese satellite images of possible debris are released and determined not to be related to the plane
  • Mar. 13: Malaysia rejects Wall Street Journal report that MH370 flew for four hours after its last known contact
  • Mar. 14: Search now includes South China Sea, Malacca Strait and Indian Ocean
    Media reports say MH370 communications system continued to ping a satellite hours after plane disappeared
  • Mar. 15: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak says someone on MH370 likely turned off its communications systems
  • Mar. 17: 26 countries now involved in the search
  • Mar. 19: FBI analyzes flight simulator data from the home of the MH370 pilot
  • Mar. 20: Australian aircraft investigate possible debris in a remote area of the southern Indian Ocean
Chinese state media and editorials blasted Malaysia over its response, arguing that the conflicting signals authorities have been sending are only adding to grieving families’ confusion and anguish.

​Chinese officials have repeatedly urged Malaysia to hurry up with the search and did so again Friday.

​Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the Chinese people are very anxious. He says China is calling on Malaysia to shoulder its responsibility in coordinating the search effort. Hong urged Malaysia to step up efforts to enhance coordination, efficiency and to report their findings in a timely fashion.

South China Sea

Although the focus of the search seemed to be shifting more heavily toward waters off the west coast of Malaysia Friday, China says its attention is still on the South China Sea.

Debris from what could be Malaysian Airlines flight 330 is seen in this satellite image from China's State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.

Debris from what could be Malaysian Airlines flight 330 is seen in this satellite image from China's State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.

Beijing has increasingly been putting forward more suggestions about where the plane might be as the search has become more complicated. On Thursday, state-television released satellite photos of debris that it thought might be the plane.

On Friday, state media quoted Chinese scientists who say they recorded what they called "a seafloor event" in waters near Vietnam and Malaysia around the time the plane vanished. The report said the event could have been caused by a plane plunging into the sea.

David Zweig, a political science professor at Hong Kong's University of Science and Technology says that despite criticism the fact that the plane practically dropped off the face of the earth poses an enormous challenge for any government.

"I don't think anybody could do much more than what the Malaysians are doing, " he said, "they are willing to accept a lot of international assistance and try to, to find the plane, which some countries would not be willing to do. I am not sure that China would do so if a ship had fallen into potentially Chinese waters."

Chinese authorities have also had to admit to errors while scraping to find new clues as well.

The satellite photos of debris released by Chinese media were later debunked. Chinese officials later said the photographs were a "mistake" and should not have been released.

International effort

While Malaysia is taking the lead on the mission, 12 other countries have sent warships and aircraft to scour an area of thousands of kilometers where the plane might have crashed.

Many of the countries that have pitched in to help are members of regional groupings, such as ASEAN. They maintain regular exchanges on trade and economic issues but analysts say their ability to work together to respond to emergencies is lacking.

Xie Tao, a professor of diplomacy at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the tragedy should be a wake up call for all the governments in the region.

"Today it's Malaysia, maybe next time it's Vietnam, and maybe next time it's a Chinese airplane," Xie said. "After this the governments involved they will think about how we will better improve cooperation at least in some non-controversial issues like search and rescue and some non-conventional security cooperation."

Up to this point, most of the search has been focused on the South China Sea, a resource rich body of water that is crisscrossed by territorial disputes between China and a number of countries in the region, including Malaysia.

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