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Malaysia, China and Vietnam point fingers amid search for missing Malaysian plane

As frustrations mount, the sniping has begun in the search for the vanished Malaysia Airlines jet. China has criticized the Malaysia-led investigation for not searching hard or fast enough. Malaysia has criticized Vietnam for releasing — prematurely, Malaysia insists — photos of possible debris amid the search.

Meanwhile, some families of passengers have criticized them all for lack of communication, accusing them of general incompetence and of caring more about their image than about survivors.

Among the 10 countries that have sent vessels and aircraft to help with the search, China has been the most vocal.

Out of the 239 passengers onboard, 154 were from China or Taiwan, but China has been especially sensitive because of domestic criticism in past years that it does not do enough to protect its citizens abroad.

Chinese officials from President Xi Jinping down have issued repeated statements emphasizing not only how much equipment and manpower they have deployed but how much their leaders have berated their Malaysian counterparts in recent days.

Search area expands

The Malaysian government announced that it has now expanded the search west into the Andaman Sea, far from the plane's intended northeasterly flight path towards China. Click for a bigger version.

The passenger list

There were 227 passengers and 12 crew members on Flight MH370.

On Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang urged Malaysian authorities to “step up their efforts and speed up their investigation” and to make sure China and Chinese passengers’ families “find out the truth of things as soon as possible.”

And Chinese news media, which are often controlled or censored by the government, have been fairly critical.

So far, China has deployed nine ships and four helicopters. It has also deployed 10 satellites, erasing their original commands to redirect them to support the search.

Families of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner desperately await news of their loved ones at a hotel near a Beijing airport. Their frustration is growing after a massive sea and air search enters its fourth day with not a trace of the aircraft or the 239 people on board. (Reuters)

China has also sent a working group to Malaysia including officials from China’s Foreign Ministry, public security and civil aviation to spur the recovery expert

Malaysia has borne the brunt of the criticism, which has focused on its search strategy and its airport authorities’ failure to check the passports of two passengers against an Interpol database of stolen travel documents.

In response, Malaysian officials have publicly defended their efforts, and cited positive comments by the Chinese ambassador in Malaysia about their coordination.

To some online, none of the governments have come off particularly well.

One popular post that has been forwarded thousands of times on China’s version of Twitter mocks several countries for criticizing each other rather than finding the plane:

“Vietnam keeps discovering. Malaysia keeps denying. China keeps sending things on the way. Journalists keep waiting at the Lido hotel [where relatives are holed up]. Family members keep being in pain. . . . But where is the plane?”

One irony in the multinational effort of the past few days is that some of the states involved have been locked in bitter territorial disputes, including over the South China Sea near the eastern portions of the search site.

And China has been perceived in the region as a particularly egregious aggressor in recent years.

The sniping reflects a lack of built-in cooperation because of such regional tensions, said Zhang Mingliang, an expert on Southeast Asian studies at Jinan University based in Guangzhou.

Rather than criticizing each other during the search and rescue, he said, “involved parties could learn from this incident about the necessity of cooperation. . . . Maybe it could help future diplomatic relations.”

Gu Jinglu and Xu Jing contributed to this report.

William Wan is the Post's roving national correspondent, based in Washington, D.C. He previously served as the paper’s religion reporter and diplomatic correspondent and for three years as the Post’s China correspondent in Beijing.

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