MH 370: A CHINESE RIGHT TO SILENCE?
CHINESE GOVERNMENT CENSORS AND SINA WEIBO HAVE BLOCKED ACCESS TO THIS STORY
THE MIDDLE KINGDOM RULES ON OPENESS
The Middle Kingdom’s aggressive and undiplomatic demands for Malaysia to divulge all it knows about Flight MH370 is in stark contrast to its own history of secretiveness and misinformation in the face of disaster, such as after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and the earlier Tian An Mein Square massacre of its own citizens in 1989,
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has demanded Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak provide details about the missing flight “in a timely, accurate and comprehensive manner“, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
There has been an unending and incessant stream of scathing editorials in China’s state-run media demanding greater transparency from the Malaysian government and Malaysian Airlines .
“Unless transparency is ensured, the huge international search operation can never be as fruitful as we hope and expect,” Xinhua wrote in one of several commentaries. “When faced with catastrophe, honesty is human beings’ best solution to finding a chance to prevent tragedies happening again,” Xinhua continued.
However, when foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei confirmed on Tuesday that Beijing had begun searching for the missing plane in Chinese territory — after stonewalling 24 hours earlier — he declined to give details of China’s search or to provide any information to anyone else especially the Malaysians who were struggling with the situation.
CHINA’S IDEA OF OPENESS AND TRANSPARENCY IN THE MH 370 SEARCH
Analysts have asked:
“When did China begin searching its own territory?”
“Which government agencies were involved?”
“Were any searches being conducted in the restive western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, where satellite data suggests the aircraft could have flown?”
“Was any discovery of debris made or recovered in the south China sea?” ” if there was debris, where was it found by who and where is the debris?”
“Was the Chinese navy and airforce quizzed about its activities in the south China sea at the time of the aircraft’s last radio contact?”
Hong’s response to these questions was somewhat muted and coy. :”in accordance with the request of the Malaysian side, we have mobilized satellites and radar for search in the northern corridor inside the territory of China”.
China’s ambassador to Malaysia Huang Huikang told Xinhua that inquiries had found no evidence of terrorist intent among the 153 Chinese passengers on board. But that was not an answer to the many questions put to the Chinese authorities.
Huang declined elaborate his answers conveniently suggesting instead that because a ‘criminal investigation’ was underway, “the probe into the incident’s cause is not suitable to be conducted in a high-profile way”.
His response represented a fundamental turnaround from the stated Chinese position vis a vis Malaysia and its constant demands that Malaysia provide all the information it had “in an open and timely way“.
FOLLOW THE LEADER
Chinese media have been instructed to follow Xinhua’s lead in reporting the incident, according to insiders — a regular occurrence.
The International Federation of Journalists recently said in a statement:
“It is deeply regrettable that Chinese authorities continue to use methods such as these to control the flow of much-needed information, particularly for those desperately awaiting updates on the investigation.”
Even when Beijing last week released satellite photographs of three floating objects it claimed could have been from the missing flight, the statement was met with much skepticism by international authorities involved in the search, as the Chinese offered no explanation for the images being made public three days after being taken. Yet they continued to accuse Malaysia of being “not open and honest enough”.
However analysts say that Beijing’s reticence is not surprising, noting that for all countries taking part in the search, geopolitical sensitivities and defence operational matters are as much if not a greater priority than humanitarian considerations. Beijing though sees itself as being above the rule of law and the conventions of international co-operation at such times.
THE DEFENCE OF SILENCE AND SELECTIVE INFORMATION- STATE SECRETS
The initial operations in the South China Sea were “a peacetime test of many of the military functions that would be critical in the event of a conflict“, James Brown, a military fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, told AFP.
The militaries in question will have been “closely watching each other’s performance, and wary of exposing any vulnerabilities — to each other, and to their own domestic political audiences“, he added.
However, Beijing also has a long record of covering up any incidents that could be seen as embarrassments for the ruling Chinese Communist Party. Their practice has historically been to tightly restrict information and block any attempts at independent verification. The practice continues unabated.
Chinese campaigners questioning whether corruption was to blame for thousands of children being killed as their schools collapsed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake were met not with answers, but with beatings and arrests. The same response China gave with with the milk adulteration scandal that costs many lives.
Three years on, after 39 people were killed and nearly 200 injured in a deadly high-speed train crash near the eastern city of Wenzhou, Chinese authorities triggered a national outcry when they ordered the wreckage be buried in order to “protect the country’s technological secrets”. Australia and China’s other major trading partners kept silent in the face of such an outrage.
THE UIGHUR THREAT SWEPT UNDER THE RUG
More recently, state-controlled media was ordered not to publish independent reports on a fiery October motor vehicle crash in Tiananmen Square or this month’s mass stabbing attack at Kunming train station in which over 200 people were seriously injured and a total of about 50 killed.
These two events were blamed on the Uighur separatist movement who also issued a dire threat to Chinese authorities that for “each one of us you kill we will kill 100 of you”. It seemed logical with the upsurge in Uighur violent agitation aimed at Han Chinese that a red alert would have been sent out by Beijing. It did not. The FBI and Interpol continues to pursue the theory and leads that either China itself or Uighurs could have had a hand in the disappearance of MH 370. But with China’s traditions of secrecy and lack of transparency we may never know the truth.
PLANE CRASHES IN CHINA
Plane crashes on Chinese soil have typically been treated by authorities as highly sensitive, with reporters given limited access to the crash sites and, in years past, blocked entirely from reporting on them.
Beijing uses its “state secrets” law to silence dissidents and block the release of unfavourable reports on China’s environmental and other conditions, campaign groups say. However it is not very tolerant of any other state like Malaysia withholding sensitive information that could compromise their state security or sensitive military operational practices.
China engages in a “vague, circular, and overbroad definition of what constitutes a state secret”, which is part of “the policy of information control at the heart of the state secrets system’, according to US-based Human Rights in China.
Chinese Internet users have increasingly criticized the official news agency Xinhua, state broadcaster CCTV and other outlets for failing to produce the kinds of scoops that non-Chinese media have in the 11 days since MH370’s disappearance. As far as China the state is concerned, intimidation of smaller countries and its unilateral interpretation of international and national events is the be all and end all of everything.