Chinese relatives still skeptical after Malaysia plane analysis
Lieutenant General Ackbal Abdul Samad, Malaysian Air Force Air Operation Commander, answers a question from relatives of Chinese passengers on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 during a briefing at a hotel in Beijing, China on March 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
Didi Tang and Christopher Bodeen, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, March 26, 2014 10:00AM EDT
BEIJING -- The PowerPoint presentation wasn't enough. The analysis by British investigators that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was lost at sea wasn't enough. The relatives of Chinese passengers gathered in a hotel banquet hall on Wednesday were still skeptical -- and hostile.
"It's all lies. Not a shred of truth!" said a man who identified himself as Mr. Zhang from the Chinese city of Harbin. He said afterward that he had wanted to pummel everyone giving the presentation -- a delegation of Malaysian government and airline officials.
The officials came to Beijing a day after China demanded more details on how the missing plane was pronounced lost, and after Chinese authorities allowed the relatives to vent frustrations in a rare public march Tuesday to Malaysia's embassy in Beijing to denounce that country's handling of the disappearance.
Before an audience of several hundred relatives and their supporters, the Malaysian delegation read a report by investigators from Britain's Air Accidents Investigation Branch concluding the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean based on faint signals -- or pings -- from the plane to a British satellite.
During a nearly two-hour question-and-answer session, audience members asked how investigators could have reached conclusions about the direction and speed of the plane, and delegation members said they didn't have the technical expertise to answer.
One woman retorted, "I thought this was a high-level team!" to applause from the crowd.
In Malaysia's main city of Kuala Lumpur, meanwhile, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein urged calm and understanding on both sides.
"Time will heal emotions that are running high. We fully understand," Hishammuddin told a news conference. "For the Chinese families, they must also understand that we in Malaysia also lost our loved ones. There are so many other nations that have lost their loved ones."
Though many observers criticized Malaysia's initial response to the crisis, the Chinese relatives of passengers -- two-thirds of whom were Chinese -- have been especially distrustful. They have accused Malaysia of being slow to track the plane the day of its disappearance on March 8, withholding information until it was too late to be of use in the search, and not telling the world all they knew about what might have happened aboard the plane.
Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based independent commentator, said such mistrust is part of life in China.
"Chinese citizens live in an environment where information is not transparent and they naturally assume that the authorities, whether Chinese or otherwise, are misinforming them," Zhang said, adding that people have "the default position of feeling cheated."
China's government has gone out of its way to be seen as supporting the passengers' relatives. Normally extremely wary of any demonstrations that could undermine social stability, authorities permitted Tuesday's rare protest at the Malaysian Embassy in which relatives chanted slogans, threw water bottles and briefly tussled with police who kept them separated from a swarm of journalists.
The government must "show that it is actively defending the rights of Chinese citizens. They're wary of further developments beyond their control so they need to do what they can to accommodate the family members," Zhang said.
Still, the plane's disappearance with 239 people aboard doesn't appear to pose any deep threat to Beijing's friendly relations with Malaysia, a country with a large ethnic Chinese minority which has benefited from Chinese demand for its natural resource exports.
China has expressed impatience over Malaysia's slow release of information and its pace in the hunt for the plane, but at the same time has endorsed Malaysia's leadership of the search while contributing the use of surveillance satellites, planes and ships.
Some of the Chinese relatives may have an especially hard time dealing with the loss of loved ones because of China's one-child policy, which means an entire family generation, or even two, can be wiped out in a single incident, China expert Bo Zhiyue of the University of Singapore said.
The lack of a belief in an afterlife among many Chinese also makes it difficult to accept that their loved ones are gone.
"The belief is that once they die, that is it," Bo said.
Ma Xuemei, who was at the hotel in Beijing, said her sister and brother-in-law's only child -- a 27-year-old woman -- was aboard Flight 370 returning from a work assignment in Malaysia. Now the couple is struggling with the idea that their daughter went down in the Indian Ocean.
"The water is so deep there and how can their daughter survive? They cannot have children anymore, and imagine how they will spend the rest of their lives," Ma said.
As the search continued Wednesday in seas where possible debris from the plane has been spotted, one man whose brother was aboard the flight said he wasn't sure if he wanted the plane to be found.
"We are very conflicted," Wang Chunjiang said. "We want to know the truth, but we are afraid of having the debris found. If they find debris, then our last hope would be dashed. We will not have even the slightest hope."
"We do not want to know."