BEIJING: Frustrated family members of the Chinese passengers aboard missing flight MH370 walked out of a briefing by Malaysian officials on Friday, leaving the panel to stare at ranks of empty chairs while a single relatives’ representative berated them.
With the search on its 20th day, hundreds of family members of the 153 Chinese passengers stood up about an hour into a briefing at Beijing’s Lido Hotel and calmly filed out of the room, in a surreal scene that underscored the simmering tensions between the relatives and Malaysian authorities.
The man who led them in protest—a representative of the families who gave only his surname, Jiang—took the micro–phone as soon as officials opened the floor for questions following their presentation on the latest details of the search effort.
Jiang, who was wearing a white MH370 T-shirt underneath a tan blazer, turned to the assembled relatives and asked them whether they were satisfied with what they have heard from officials so far.
“No!” the family members responded in unison.
He led them in leaving the hall, as cameras rolled and the panel of Malaysian officials wordlessly looked on. Several dozen uni–formed police officers stood on the sides of the room, watching the scene unfold.
Once the family members had left, Jiang returned and took a seat in the front row, directly in front of the officials.
“You have seen from the scene today that the next of kin are united,” he declared.
“Chinese people are united. The facts which you have been con–cealing—or trying to conceal—will ultimately see the light of day. There will certainly be people who receive their due punishment as a result of this,” he added.
Ackbal Abdul Samad, comman–der of the Malaysian Air Force operations, responded by defend–ing the search operation and maintaining that the authorities were working their hardest.
“How can you move forward from here?” he asked.
“We are trying our best. We are trying our best,” Ackbal added.
With a twinge of exasperation in his voice, he added: “We have got nothing to hide.”
The back-and-forth soon ended, Jiang left the hall and the panel of Malaysian officials sat quietly, staring out at the rows of empty seats in the ballroom.
The bizarre scene was in dramatic contrast to irate relatives scuffling with security personnel outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing on Tuesday, after authorities allowed a rare protest march in the capital.
Malaysians also angry
Malaysians are now chafing at scathing Chinese criticism over the lost Malaysian Airlines MH370 passenger jet, with fed-up officials, media and citizens now hitting back after being assailed as incompetent liars and murderers.
Malaysia has largely held fire—China, the world’s second-largest economy, is its primary trading partner. But the strain is starting to show.
Defense and Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who had trodden lightly on China in often-testy press briefings on the crisis, was asked by a Chinese reporter on Tuesday about delays and misdirections in Malaysia’s initial response.
Hishammuddin shot back that time was wasted early in the search by Chinese satellite images showing purported plane debris in the South China Sea. Beijing later acknowledged the images were false, and the search for wreckage is now focused far away in the Indian Ocean.
A day later, the minister insisted that “history will judge us well.”
“Anybody who has gone through this, what we have gone through . . . has indicated to me that we have done quite an admirable job,” he said, adding that no country has a monopoly on grief—the plane carried 50 Malaysian citizens.
State-controlled press have joined in, with the Malay Mail newspaper running a front-page editorial Friday headlined “MH370—Malaysia under siege.”
“Countries whom we call friends must now do more to prove their friendship,” it said.
The editorial urged Prime Minister Najib Razak to rally Malaysians to defend the country’s “reputation and honor.”