Flight MH370

Malaysia Airlines flight 370

Are Chinese celebrities stoking resentment against Malaysia over MH370 disaster?

Some weibo stars blamed for stoking incendiary war of words by calling for boycott against Malaysia

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 3:29pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 March, 2014, 3:41pm

Bloggers and columnists warned against inflammatory speech and urged some celebrities to refrain from stoking further tensions, as calls on social media to boycott Malaysian tourism and products continued to gain traction.

Sina Weibo users today lashed out against those who launched attacks at Malaysian citizens - including Malaysian celebrities of Chinese descent - in retaliation over Malaysia's handling of the search for flight MH370.

They urged “rational patriotism”, where instead of blindly boycotting Malaysia and fanning hatred, people should focus on finding the truth for the sake of the passengers' families.

Watch: China's Zhang Ziyi makes a plea for "the truth" about flight MH370

Some mainland internet users have left slurs and insults on the Sina Weibo pages of famous Malaysian-Chinese singers including  Fish Leong and Victor Wong.

Just months ago in October, Leong, who identifies as Malaysian, received glowing coverage from the Chinese media and netizens after Chinese president Xi Jinping mentioned her name on a diplomatic visit to Kuala Lumpur partly to illustrate pop culture parallels between the two nations.

But now she became the subject of vitriol. “What are you hiding from us?,” one blogger wrote on Leong’s page, in one of the milder comments on her page.

Others left obscenities. One called Malaysians "inferior" and said they were "not welcome in China".

Malaysian officials have been criticised for giving confusing information, or are sometimes accused of witholding information, and failing to adequately comfort the families of the mostly Chinese passengers on the crashed jetliner.

Some opinion writers suggested a handful of mainland celebrities, many with millions of weibo followers, have played a part in encouraging the public to vent their anger at Malaysians.

Chen Kun, a mainland film star with 70 million Sina Weibo followers, has said he would boycott Malaysian products and tourism until the Malaysian government “takes down their clown-like mask and tells the truth” about MH370.

Famous TV show host Meng Fei expressed similar sentiments.

But Pan Caifu, a well-known columnist and microblogger, called attacks against Malaysians “stupid” and urged public figures to stop adding fuel to the fire.

“Celebrities were irresponsible for provoking anger," he said in a column published on The Beijing News today.

“Malaysia has always been China’s loyal friend, and the Malaysians have also criticised their government after the crisis," he said.

Zhao Chu, a columnist with 10 million Sina Weibo followers, cited more constructive ways of venting anger.

“If you really care about the Chinese passengers onboard, you should pressure the Chinese government into better co-ordinating with the Malaysians and make explicit demands."

Zhao also cautioned that celebrities should refrain from “abusing their influence”.

Part of the social media debate also centred on how Chinese anger against Malaysia could be pushing the Southeast Asian ally closer towards the United States.

Microbloggers cited a Twitter message posted by the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur, saying: “Not giving up. We're with you Malaysia."

“Even if the US was only pretending to be friends [with Malaysia], I think it might be working,” one microblogger wrote.

The difficult search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 began after it disappeared from civilian aviation radars on March 8. Tensions have flared between aggrieved Chinese families staying in Beijing and Malaysian authorities since.

Mainland travel agencies have reported a sharp drop - some as much as 50 per cent - in the number of Chinese visitors to Malaysia compared to the same period last year.