Flight MH370

Malaysia Airlines flight 370

Downturn in China-Malaysia ties only temporary, say analysts

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 March, 2014, 11:37pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 3:29am

Diplomatic relations between China and Malaysia have frayed since Beijing accused Kuala Lumpur of withholding information about the missing airplane but the tension will be temporary, analysts say.

Beijing would need to maintain good relations with Malaysia to balance out its dealings with other Southeast Asian nations that were bitterly disputing territory issues with China in the South China Sea, according to political observers.

China and Malaysia last October signed off on a comprehensive strategic partnership, and the two nations plan to stage their first joint military drills sometime this year.

Bilateral ties have been tested by the disappearance of Flight MH370 on March 8, with Beijing officials expressing their dismay at Malaysia's search effort and its conclusions.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said on March 13 that Malaysia's information was "chaotic".

On Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping sent special envoy Zhang Yesui to Kuala Lumpur to "ask the Malaysian side to properly handle related issues", Xinhua reported.

"The lack of trust will hinder their ties, and how the two nations handle their search effort is crucial to whether the mistrust will intensify," said Zhang Mingliang, assistant professor specialising in Southeast Asian affairs at Jinan University.

Malaysia had expressed some mistrust of China's military buildup in the region, Zhang said. Tensions increased in January after China sent military ships to waters off the James Shoal in the South China Sea, an area also claimed by Malaysia.

Fan Hongwei, an assistant professor with the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University, said Beijing needed to check the anger of the relatives of the missing flight's passengers. The relatives have called Malaysian officials liars.

Political observers said they expected the two nations to avoid letting the plane's disappearance to significantly undermine bilateral ties.

Du Jifeng, a Southeast Asian affairs analyst at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the impact would be limited to a drop in the number of Chinese tourists and businessmen visiting Malaysia. "On the political front, things will remain intact," he said.

China's ties with Southeast Asian nations, particularly the Philippines, have soured because Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, a claim disputed by Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan. Manila took the dispute to a UN arbitration body last year. Beijing wants to settle the dispute via bilateral negotiations.