News / Asia

China Hesitant to Accuse Russia for Plane Crash

Flowers are placed on a plane engine at the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines jet near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine, July 19, 2014.
Flowers are placed on a plane engine at the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines jet near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine, July 19, 2014.

The missile attack against a civilian airliner high above eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 aboard, is already seen as a pivotal moment in the Ukraine crisis. China has said the conflict is an internal struggle that should be negotiated peacefully, but has resisted joining Western-led sanctions against Moscow.

After the MH17 crash, China joined the international community expressing condolences for the victims and their families.

In a statement issued shortly after the tragedy, the country's Foreign Ministry said it was shocked by the crash and hoped the causes would be found as soon as possible.

But while some countries, including Australia and the United States, have "pointed the finger" at Russia - which they say is arming the rebels in Donetsk and is likely to have provided technical assistance with the missile that downed the plane - China has refrained from making any accusation.

Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Peking University, says China will not rush to a conclusion too early, and the severity of the incident calls for an independent international investigation.

“If Russia will be found responsible for this, then Russia will have to shoulder that responsibility. But we cannot just pick a conclusion and say that Russia is behind this as a certainty,” he said.

Rockets have shot down passenger planes before. Here are a few examples:

October 4, 2001

Ukraine's military is conducting an exercise shooting missiles at drones when one missile locks onto a Siberia Airlines plane en route from Novosibirsk to Tel Aviv.  All 78 people on board are killed.

July 3, 1988

U.S. warship Vincennes mistakes Iranian passenger plane for a threatening warplane during the war between Iraq and Iran. All 290 people on board are killed when the airliner is shot down over the Gulf.

September 1, 1983

A Soviet fighter jet shoots down a Korean Air Lines passenger jet over Soviet airspace after mistaking it for a spy plane. All 269 people on board are killed, including U.S. Representative Lawrence McDonald of Georgia.

April 20, 1978  

A Soviet fighter plane attacks an off-course South Korean jetliner. Two passengers die after the plane is forced to crash land.

February 21, 1973

Israeli jets fire at a Libyan Airlines flight traveling from Tripoli to Cairo that drifted into Israeli airspace. Israel claims the plane refused to identify itself. The airliner loses control and crashes, killing 108 people. Five survive the crash.


State media conveyed a similar message in an editorial Friday.

Xinhua said, “As there is still no convincing evidence on who is responsible for bringing down the unlucky Malaysian airliner MH17 over eastern Ukraine, any precipitate leap to a conclusion on the crash will only be detrimental to efforts for impartial investigation and calm the situation.”

The editorial quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin's position that Ukraine bears the responsibility as the tragedy occurred over its territory.

David Zweig, professor of politics at Hong Kong's University of Science and Technology, says China's restraint reflects Beijing's ambivalence about the conflict in Ukraine.

“It matches pretty much their view about the separatists in eastern Ukraine, which is that they don't like them but they don't want to hurt the relationship with Putin,” he said.

Russia's annexation of Crimea, as well as mounting evidence that Putin is sponsoring rebel forces in eastern Ukraine did not sit well in China.

Beijing has long championed the principle of non-interference in other countries' affairs and at home; it blames separatism for heightened tensions in ethnically diverse areas such as Tibet and Xinjiang.

“If the separatists [in Ukraine] get a bad reputation, that doesn't hurt China, only as it gets closer to Russia maybe they'd gonna be more concerned,” said David Zweig.

In response to the crash, the United States announced it will extend the scope of sanctions against Russia.

While analysts in China say the tragedy might spur more attention to the conflict in Ukraine, the Chinese government is not likely to endorse sanctions or publicly shame Russia.

  • Vice President Joe Biden:  ``(The plane) apparently has been shot down - shot down, not an accident, blown out of the sky.''
  • President Vladimir Putin: ``This tragedy would not have happened if there had been peace on that land, or in any case if military operations in southeastern Ukraine had not been renewed. And without doubt, the government of the territory on which it happened bears responsibility for this frightening tragedy. We will do everything that we can so that an objective picture of what happened can be achieved. This is a completely unacceptable thing.''
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel: ``We need to start an independent investigation as quickly as possible. A ceasefire is needed for that and it's important that those responsible are bought to justice. There are many indications that the plane was shot down, so we have to take things very seriously.  (I am making) a very clear call for the Russian president and government to make their contribution to bringing about a political solution.''
  • Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak: ``If it transpires that the plane was indeed shot down, we insist that the perpetrators must swiftly be brought to justice.''
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko:  ``(The) tragedy showed again that terrorism is not localized, but a world problem. And the external aggression against Ukraine is not just our problem, but a threat to European and global security.''
  • Aleksandr Borodai, Prime Minister of the self proclaimed 'Donetsk People's Republic: ``Apparently, it's a passenger airliner ... truly shot down  by the Ukrainian Air Force.''
  • Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott: ``We all know that there are problems in Ukraine. We also know who is very substantially to blame for those problems, and the idea that Russia can somehow say that none of this had anything to do with them because it happened in Ukrainian air space frankly does not stand up to any serious scrutiny.''


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Comment Sorting
by: Scotty from: London
July 21, 2014 4:58 AM
What would Russia gain from shooting down this aircraft? Nothing but international condemnation so ask yourself a logical question. Ukraine is being run by right wing fascists so is there any wonder many Ukrainians want out and Crimea was a Russian province anyway. Ukraine government is fighting in Eastern Ukraine and it has the BUK system from the Soviet era so this is either an appalling miscalculation by a military which is the most likely scenario or someone whipped up a hatred of Russia by committing a cynical and ruthless act. Ukraine by the way, had an elected president until recently and had that still been the case, non of this would have happened but somebody armed the fascists and let them burn people alive in buildings.

by: eunuch from: Beijing
July 20, 2014 3:22 PM
China is just a coward, who bullied smaller neighbors and knees to Russia.

by: William Li from: Canada
July 20, 2014 1:11 PM
No doubt Ukraine government did this and try to blame it on Russia and rebels! Why Ukraine deployed BUK missiles in east Ukraine since rebels don't have warplanes at all?
In Response

by: Mike from: California
July 21, 2014 1:28 AM
William.. Get your facts straight. Russia needs to get out of Ukraine and stop stealing land.

by: melvin lee from: malaysia
July 19, 2014 6:53 PM
China, Russia, North Korea,Burma ,etc., are all big liars .
In Response

by: unclesam20009 from: Shengzhen, China
July 20, 2014 1:03 AM
Don't blame China! Blame the government! All Chinese people know who is the perpetrator. There is no doubt that Putin is! All Chinese people know who is our friend: America or Russia? There is no doubt that is America. But for some political reasons, the American values, democracy and freedom, pose the greatest threat to Chinese communist part's core interest: dictatorship! But Putin never will threat the CCP's core interest. So Chinese people see America as friend, while the CCP( the government) view Putin as friend!

by: Huno from: Spain
July 19, 2014 9:50 AM
Severe sanctions on Russia can stop Putin! If we are so divided to do that,Putin destroys EU and Ukraine!!!

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