Malaysia Airlines MH 370 search turns region nervous over Chinese response

Mar 13 2014, 18:43 IST
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Search for Malaysia Airlines MH 370 missing plane and its 239 passengers and crew has exposed tensions in region. AP Search for Malaysia Airlines MH 370 missing plane and its 239 passengers and crew has exposed tensions in region. AP
SummaryThe search for Malaysia Airlines MH 370 missing plane has turned even more stressful.

From high-resolution satellites to advanced warships, China's military build-up is on full display in the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines MH 370 missing plane - putting Asia on notice as to what Beijing might do in the future to further assert its regional presence.

Now in its sixth day, the search for the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 and its 239 passengers and crew has exposed tensions between Beijing and Kuala Lumpur, with Chinese officials from Premier Li Keqiang on down criticising Malaysia's handling of the crisis. China has sent a team of envoys and investigators to Malaysia to deepen its involvement.

While Beijing's concerns reflect, in part, public anxiety over the fate of more than 150 Chinese on board Flight MH370, the search comes at a time when China has been flexing its muscles in the disputed South and East China Seas.

One aerospace and defence industry source with years of experience in the region said the Chinese response would stick in the minds of its neighbours.

"This is a demonstration of force in a peaceful context," said the source, who declined to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

China has deployed four warships, four coastguard vessels, eight aircraft and trained 10 satellites on a wide search area far from mainland China. Chinese media have described the ship deployment as the largest Chinese rescue fleet ever assembled.

The missing plane's last reported contact with civilian radar was near the mouth of the Gulf of Thailand, which opens into the South China Sea. The aircraft was bound for Beijing after taking off from Kuala Lumpur.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang on Monday acknowledged Malaysia had the "main responsibility" for both the search and the follow-up investigation. He added, however, that Beijing had a responsibility not only to participate but to "demand and urge" Malaysia to step up its efforts.

ONCE WARM TIES?

Ironically, China's ties with Malaysia had been among its warmest in the region despite a dispute over territory in the South China Sea.

However, Chinese warships staged a show of sovereignty just two months ago at the James Shoal, a submerged reef about 80 km (50 miles) off Malaysia's Borneo island state of Sarawak - and some 1,800 km (1,125 miles) from mainland China.

Beijing regards those waters as its southernmost territory, the bottom of a looping so-called nine-dash line on maps that comprise 90 percent of the South China Sea. The

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