Malaysia's response to the disappearance of Flight 370 has, in recent days, come under increasing criticism particularly from China, where the government is grappling with rising anger from the relatives of the 154 Chinese passengers on board the Boeing 777, which was carrying 239 people bound for Beijing.
Malaysia on Saturday said search efforts had entered a “new phase” and had been substantially readjusted, following the revelation that the aircraft had flown hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometers west of its last known point of contact with air traffic control over the Gulf of Thailand, northeast of the country.
It emerged on Thursday - a full five days after Flight 370 was reported missing - that military radars had picked up the aircraft heading west of Malaysia toward the Malacca Strait, more than one hour after it lost contact with civilian air traffic.
While Malaysian authorities said they had internally been investigating the radar data, the fact remained that up until Friday evening, eight of China's vessels, deployed earlier in the week, were still carrying out search missions in waters northeast of Malaysia, searching for debris in a region that, ultimately, was found to be on
the wrong end of the country. Searches in the Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea were called off on Saturday.
That it took Malaysian authorities as long as a week to sift through data from satellite transmissions and military radars and convey the findings to countries involved in search operations has brought criticism.
Aircraft and vessels from half a dozen countries had remained pressed into operations off Malaysia's eastern coast more than five days after military radars had tracked the aircraft hundreds of kilometres due west, flying into waters off the western coast, heading into the Malacca Strait. That three military radars were unable to detect a Boeing 777 flying over right across Malaysian airspace has also raised difficult questions for Kuala Lumpur at home.
On Saturday, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng met with the Malaysian envoy here, Iskandar Sarudin, and urged his government to provide “thorough and accurate information”.
The official Xinhua news agency, in more direct language, said it was “undeniable that the disclosure of such vital information is painfully belated, more than seven excruciating days after the 227 passengers and 12 crew members lost contact with their beloved relatives and friends.”
“And due to the absence — or at least lack of timely authoritative information — massive efforts have been squandered, and numerous rumours have been spawned, repeatedly racking the nerves of the awaiting families,” the commentary from the State-run agency said.