Skip to main content

Lucrative China-Malaysia relations not derailed by search for MH370

By Pamela Boykoff and Chan Kok Leong, CNN
April 7, 2014 -- Updated 0126 GMT (0926 HKT)
Many Chinese relatives of passengers who traveled on MH370 have been unhappy with the Malaysian government.
Many Chinese relatives of passengers who traveled on MH370 have been unhappy with the Malaysian government.
  • Chinese officials have been careful not to blame Malaysia for the fate of MH370
  • This is contrast to many of the Chinese relatives of passengers
  • Trade between China and Malaysia grew to more than US$63.4 billion last year

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (CNN) -- If the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 caused a rift in China-Malaysia relations, the two countries appear to have put it behind them.

Recent comments by officials in both Kuala Lumpur and Beijing have emphasized the active cooperation between the two countries, while also downplaying accusations lodged by Chinese families against the Malaysian government.

According to Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, China's Ambassador to Malaysia sought to distance these "radical views" from his country's official position. They "do not represent the views of Chinese people and the Chinese government," he was quoted as saying.

READ: Searchers race to trace electronic signals

Some of the Chinese relatives of passengers aboard the missing Boeing 777 have been openly critical of the investigation. They went so far as to release a statement calling the Malaysian government and its military the "real murderers" of their loved ones.

Australia cautions about false positives
Families of MH370 passengers in limbo
Grieving relatives' anguish continues

In a press conference Saturday, Acting Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein made it clear China will be an accredited member of the investigation team. A few days earlier, he spoke about Malaysia's duty to keep its Asian neighbor informed about all progress.

James Chin, professor of political science at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, said the rift always appeared larger in the media than at an official level. "I think among the diplomats they do understand this is just a small thing within the larger context of Malaysia-China relations and this will not alter relationships in the long term."

Trade partners

At stake between the two countries is a thriving economic relationship. According to Malaysia's Ministry of International Trade, China was Malaysia's largest trading partner for the fifth consecutive year in 2013. Trade between the two countries that year grew by 12.5% to US $63.4 billion.

Tourism numbers were equally positive, with 1.79 million people visiting from China last year -- an increase of 14.9% from the previous year.

Ramon Navaratnam, former Secretary General of the Malaysian Ministry of Transport, said he did not expect trade between the two countries to deteriorate, despite the initial protests by some of the Chinese families of missing passengers on MH370 in Beijing.

"I don't see it happening as the Chinese authorities, especially their envoy (Huang Huikang) to Malaysia, has given very measured statements and not blamed Malaysia for MH370," said Navaratnam, who is currently the chairman of the Center for Public Policy Studies at the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute.

Navaratnam, who has authored several books on economics in Malaysia, said the business environment would not change unless the governments decided otherwise.

Lee Hwok Aun, an economics lecturer at the University of Malaya, agreed bilateral trade is not expected to fall off as Malaysia's primary exports to China consist of electrical components and raw materials such as crude rubber and palm oil -- critical to China's own economy.

"Tourism may suffer some minor setbacks initially but exports won't change much as China needs raw materials," said Lee. "It's much harder to organize a boycott of component imports and China too wants a steady supply chain."

READ: Going on after sudden loss

Part of complete coverage on
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
The search for MH370 is moving to an area farther south in the Indian Ocean, said the Australian Deputy Prime Minister.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 0033 GMT (0833 HKT)
Erin Burnett speaks to Miles O'Brien about the latest in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
June 18, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Ten experts say that the search for MH370 should move hundreds of miles away from the previous search area.
June 17, 2014 -- Updated 1322 GMT (2122 HKT)
His wife never came home from her flight on MH370, and now K.S. Narendran is left to imagine the worst of possible truths without knowing.
June 16, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Families are desperate for results as the search for MH370 reaches a grim milestone. Anna Coren reports from Beijing.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Relatives of passengers are launching an effort to raise $5 million for investigations and a "whistle blower" reward.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 0731 GMT (1531 HKT)
Making sure another plane is never "lost" again is the immediate priority for the airline industry.
May 30, 2014 -- Updated 1536 GMT (2336 HKT)
This handout photo taken on April 7, 2014 and released on April 9, 2014 by Australian Defence shows Maritime Warfare Officer, Sub Lieutenant Ryan Penrose watching HMAS Success as HMAS Perth approaches for a replenishment at sea while searching for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean. Two fresh signals have been picked up Australian ship Ocean Shield in the search for missing Malaysian flight MH370, raising hopes that wreckage will be found within days even as black box batteries start to expire.
Was the sound of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 striking the water captured by ocean devices used to listen for signs of nuclear blasts?
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2229 GMT (0629 HKT)
What was believed to be the best hope of finding the missing plane is now being called a false hope. Rene Marsh explains.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2105 GMT (0505 HKT)
Involved parties, including the manufacturer Boeing, are bracing for a long public relations siege.
May 29, 2014 -- Updated 1134 GMT (1934 HKT)
Official: The four acoustic pings at the center of the search for Flight 370 are no longer believed to have come from the plane's black boxes.
May 27, 2014 -- Updated 1421 GMT (2221 HKT)
There is one fundamental question which continues to swirl: Has Inmarsat got its numbers right?
May 27, 2014 -- Updated 1213 GMT (2013 HKT)
Data from communications between satellites and missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 was released
May 27, 2014 -- Updated 0742 GMT (1542 HKT)
Family members of the people aboard missing plane want independent investigators to review the newly released satellite data.
May 21, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
CNN's Richard Quest explains what kind of information should be contained in the Inmarsat data from Flight MH370.
May 27, 2014 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
The underwater search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane will effectively be put on hold this week, and may not resume until August at the earliest.
May 19, 2014 -- Updated 1304 GMT (2104 HKT)
Movie-makers in Cannes have announced they're making a thriller based on the disappearance of Malaysian flight MH370.
May 6, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
The search for the missing Boeing 777 has gone on for eight weeks now. CNN's David Molko looks back at this difficult, emotional assignment.