Even after this week's resounding defeat, China Eastern Airlines Corp still thinks it can cement a partnership with Singapore Airlines by winning over the owners of the 66 per cent of its shares that did not cast their votes for the deal. At the shareholders' meeting on Tuesday, only 680 million shares out of the 1.96 billion that were eligible were voted. 'It is the norm among mainland investors that those who are more willing to go to a shareholder meeting will go there to veto a deal,' a China Eastern official said. Although disappointed at the result, China Eastern officials say privately that they still hope to persuade more shareholders to vote for the tie-up in another round, if any. The low attendance went against China Eastern. Just 4.7 per cent of A-share shareholders and 40 per cent of H-share shareholders that were entitled to voting rights attended the meeting in person or by proxy. In contrast, opponents of the deal were there in force. China National Aviation Corp (Group) (CNAC) - the parent of Air China - owns 12 per cent of China Eastern's H shares and was trying to scuttle the proposal in favour of a competing partnership with Air China. Mainland funds that also own Air China heavily influenced the result. Among the 17.46 million A shares that vetoed the deal, 17.33 million shares belonged to Rongtong Fund Management and Bosera Funds. Rongtong owns 64.2 million shares of Air China, while Bosera owns 31.5 million shares. Whether they were voting to serve their interests in Air China rather than in China Eastern was hard to tell, a market observer said. Two qualified domestic institutional investors that voted against the deal also held Air China stock. China Asset Management and Harvest Fund Management, representing more than 50 million dissenting shares, own 20 million shares and 52 million shares, respectively, in Air China. Including the 189 million H shares held by CNAC, the three parties account for 51 per cent of the votes against the deal among H-share holdings. About 200 million dissenting H shares came from three or four international funds that changed their mind overnight because CNAC offered a better deal at the weekend, according to market sources. The skilful manoeuvre by CNAC left China Eastern with no room to react. 'Even if we raised the offer price, our competitor could easily raise their bid, too,' said a China Eastern official. The market expects a lengthy takeover tussle to emerge. China Eastern reiterated that it would not accept a hostile bid flaunted by CNAC, a key domestic rival, right after its shareholders rejected the friendly offer by Singapore Airlines and Temasek Holdings. The resulting uncertainty was expected to weigh on the share price of China Eastern in the coming weeks, according to a report by Merrill Lynch on Monday.