Despite memories of decades of Cold War frostiness, Beijing is now quite chummy with Moscow
On July 18, shortly after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed over eastern Ukraine, extinguishing 298 lives, China’s Xinhua state news agency cautioned against making snap judgments. The U.S. and other Western nations had begun to finger pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine for shooting down the Boeing 777 passenger plane, but Xinhua dismissed such accusations as “rash” and took the opportunity to swipe at Western democracies for their condemnation of Russia’s earlier military intervention in Ukraine:
The one-sided accusation is not surprising in light of their long-time stance on the crisis in eastern Ukraine, and their attitude towards Russia’s absorption of Crimea in March. But without convincing evidence, jumping to a conclusion will only heighten regional tension and is not conducive to finding out the truth.
Russian President Vladimir Putin late Thursday said it is Ukraine that bears the responsibility as the tragedy occurred over its territory. The tragedy, Putin said, could have been avoided should Ukraine’s eastern regions be in peace.
On July 21, the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece, ran a piece still cautioning that “no proof has been found so far to clarify the cause or identify the perpetrator.” Nowhere did the story mention the likelihood that pro-Russian rebels had trained a missile on MH17 as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
The same day, the Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party-linked daily that can be counted on for nationalist commentary, did at least mention such a possibility — if only to decry Western governments’ speculation that Russia may have aided and abetted the rebels’ cause:
The Western rush to judge Russia is not based on evidence or logic. Russia had no motive to bring down MH17; doing so would only narrow its political and moral space to operate in the Ukrainian crisis. The tragedy has no political benefit for Ukrainian rebel forces, either. Russia has been back-footed, forced into a passive stance by Western reaction. It is yet another example of the power of Western opinion as a political tool.
The crisis in Ukraine had already put China in a difficult position. Despite memories of decades of Cold War frostiness, Beijing has boosted its ties with Moscow. The two neighbors share an antipathy toward Western democratic values and a mutual interest in natural resources. The first foreign trip Xi Jinping made as President was to Russia in March 2013.
Yet China also proclaims that one of its foreign-policy bedrocks is staying out of other nations’ internal affairs. Russia’s invasion of Crimea — which Xinhua delicately termed an “absorption” — cannot be considered as anything but a gross interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs. Beijing is struggling with separatist sentiment at home, most notably among Tibetan and Uighur populations in China’s far west. How can Chinese foreign-policy makers support an ethnic rebel movement over a national government, even if those separatists do have Russia’s tacit blessing?
China may soon have to reconcile this foreign-policy quandary. “It will bring about a severe challenge to China’s general strategy and diplomacy if America and Europe propose sanctions against Russia and demand China should join with them,” wrote Chinese security analyst Gao Feng in a widely disseminated blog post. “For China, the issue is which side it should choose. Without doubt, an ambiguous stance [by Beijing] will face criticism and moral pressure.”
There were no mainland Chinese nationals on MH17. By contrast, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished in March en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, was filled with Chinese passengers. As the Malaysian investigation into that plane’s disappearance foundered, Chinese authorities allowed MH370 families to stage protests in Beijing — a rarity in a nation allergic to public displays of dissent.
This time around, official Chinese sentiment has steered clear of blaming Malaysia for the Ukraine disaster. Instead, West-bashing has predominated. “The West has successfully put itself in a position to dictate ‘political correctness’ in international discourse,” said the Global Times editorial on MH17 on Monday. “Those unwilling to work with Western interests will often find themselves in a tough position.” Criticism of the West even extended beyond the tragedy of MH17. On July 21, Xinhua publicized a new campaign of “intense ideological education for officials to strengthen their faith in communism and curb corruption.” First on cadres’ to-do lists? Keeping a “firm belief in Marxism to avoid being lost in the clamor for western democracy.”
— With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing
If Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was accidentally shot down, it would mark the deadliest such incident. But not the first.
Ukrainian officials have blamed separatist rebels for shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, possibly mistaking it for a Ukrainian aircraft. The separatists have denied the allegations—and in turn suggested Ukraine was responsible.
If the airliner, reported to have 295 people on board and flying at 33,000 feet, was indeed shot down, it would mark the deadliest such incident ever. But it wouldn’t be the first time an airliner has been accidently or recklessly shot down.
Here are some of those disasters, including one in 2001 that was also linked to Ukraine:
Siberian Airlines Flight 1812
The airliner was flying at roughly 35,000 feet over the Black Sea, en route to Russia from Israel, when it was struck by a Ukrainian missile. Investigators later concluded that Ukrainian air defense forces had fired two missiles during a major military exercise: one hit the targeted drone, the other continued 150 more miles and appeared to lock-on to the Siberian Airlines flight. All 78 people aboard were killed.
Iran Air Flight 655
In the midst of the Iran-Iraq war and with tensions high between the U.S. and Iran, the U.S. Navy said it mistook the Iranian passenger plane, an Airbus 300, for a hostile fighter jet. After issuing several warnings, the missile cruiser Vincennes fired two surface-to-air missiles, at least one of which struck the Dubai-bound plane at 7,500 feet over the Straight of Hormuz, killing all 290 people on board.
Korean Air Lines Flight 007
A Soviet interceptor shot down the Boeing 747 en route from New York to Seoul with 269 people aboard, including U.S. Representative Lawrence McDonald. Soviet officials believed that the airliner, which had crossed into Soviet airspace, was on a reconnaissance mission. Everyone on board was killed.
Korean Air Lines Flight 902
Navigational equipment on the Paris-to-Seoul flight malfunctioned, leading the pilot to fly into Soviet airspace above the Arctic Circle. Soviet forces, believing it to be a reconnaissance flight, fired on the Boeing 707, forcing it to make an emergency landing near the Finnish border, killing two. The Soviet Union later charged the South Korean government $100,000 for its rescue operation, but the bill went unpaid.
Libyan Airlines Flight 114
The Cairo-bound Boeing 727 was apparently disoriented by poor weather and crossed over Israeli-occupied Sinai, which had been declared a war zone. Amid reports of terrorist plans to use a civilian airliner against Israel, the country scrambled interceptors. The fighter jets issued warning signals that went unheeded—an investigation later reportedly found that the French pilot believed the jets were Egyptian escorts—and then shot it down, killing nearly all of the roughly 115 people on board.
El Al Flight 402
The flight between Vienna and Istanbul en route to Israel strayed into the airspace of Bulgaria, then an Eastern Bloc country. The government scrambled its fighters, which shot down the Lockheed Constellation, killing all 58 passengers and crew on board. Bulgaria later issued a formal apology, saying its pilots had been “too hasty.”
Rebels in eastern Ukraine tell TIME's Simon Shuster they lack the firepower to have shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Their recent record of surface-to-air attacks suggests otherwise
The pro-Russia separatist leader was not in a mood to discuss the downing of a passenger plane over eastern Ukraine on Thursday. He had heard about it on the news – 280 passengers and 15 crew on a Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lampur – possibly shot out of the sky with a missile or some other projectile over the war-ravaged region of Donetsk.
Ukrainian officials had already laid the blame on the separatist rebels in that region. So who was responsible? Oleg Tsarev, one of the leaders of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic, said the rebels did not shoot the plane down. “We don’t have weapons that can take down a plane from that altitude,” he told TIME, minutes after news of the crash broke.
But only three weeks ago they had plenty of those weapons. At the end of June, the Russian state media had congratulated the rebels on their latest military acquisition – a set of Russian-made BUK missile launchers seized from a Ukrainian air force base. “The Donetsk resistance fighters have captured an anti-aircraft military station,” declared the Kremlin’s main television network Vesti, which has been cheering on the rebel fighters since the war in eastern Ukraine began this spring. “The skies above Donetsk will now be protected by the BUK surface-to-air missile complex,” said the headline on the channel’s website.
The rebels quickly seemed to put their new rockets to work. The downing of Ukrainian military aircraft has become almost commonplace in recent days. An AN-26 military transport plane was shot down on Monday over eastern Ukraine, and the rebel leaders confirmed the same day that they had taken its four crew members hostage after they had ejected to safety. In the two days that followed, another two Ukrainian military aircraft, both of them SU-25 fighter jets, were reportedly shot down by the rebels. And Russian media trumpeted another rebel strike late on Thursday afternoon, claiming that a Ukrainian AN-24 had gone down over the town of Torez.
That was just a few hours before reports first emerged in the Russian media that Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 had been shot down over the town of Torez, just near the Russian border with Ukraine. The Ukrainian government and the rebel leaders immediately began trading blame. But the separatists’ claims that they lacked the firepower to shoot down that plane rang hollow. Asked about the BUK missiles that the rebels acquired in June – and apparently used successfully since then against the Ukrainian military – Tsarev said, “I have no more information for you,” and hung up the phone.
The new search area is based on fresh analysis of existing satellite data from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The plane vanished during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew aboard+ READ ARTICLE
(SYDNEY) — Investigators looking into the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines plane are confident the jet was on autopilot when it crashed in a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean, Australian officials said Thursday as they announced the latest shift in the search for the doomed airliner.
After analyzing data between the plane and a satellite, officials believe Flight 370 was on autopilot the entire time it was flying across a vast expanse of the southern Indian Ocean, based on the straight path it took, Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief commissioner Martin Dolan said.
“Certainly for its path across the Indian Ocean, we are confident that the aircraft was operating on autopilot until it ran out of fuel,” Dolan told reporters in Canberra, the nation’s capital.
Asked whether the autopilot would have to be manually switched on, or whether it could have been activated automatically under a default setting, Dolan replied: “The basic assumption would be that if the autopilot is operational it’s because it’s been switched on.”
But exactly why the autopilot would have been set on a flight path so far off-course from the jet’s destination of Beijing, and exactly when it was switched on remains unknown.
“We couldn’t accurately, nor have we attempted to, fix the moment when it was put on autopilot,” Transport Minister Warren Truss said. “It will be a matter for the Malaysian-based investigation to look at precisely when it may have been put on autopilot.”
The latest nugget of information from the investigation into Flight 370 came as officials announced yet another change in the search area for the wreckage of the plane that vanished on March 8 after taking off from Kuala Lumpur with 239 passengers and crew on board.
The new search area is located several hundred kilometers (miles) southwest of the most recent suspected crash site, about 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) off Australia’s west coast, Dolan said. Powerful sonar equipment will scour the seabed for wreckage in the new search zone, which officials calculated by reanalyzing the existing satellite data.
The shift was expected, with Dolan saying last week the new zone would be south of an area where a remote-controlled underwater drone spent weeks fruitlessly combing 850 square kilometers (330 square miles) of seabed. That search area was determined by a series of underwater sounds initially thought to have come from the plane’s black boxes. But those signals are now widely believed to have come from some other source.
The new 60,000 square kilometer (23,000 square mile) search area falls within a vast expanse of ocean that air crews have already scoured for floating debris, to no avail. Officials have since called off the air search, since any debris would likely have sunk long ago.
The hunt is now focused underwater. Beginning in August, private contractors will use powerful side-scan sonar equipment capable of probing ocean depths of 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) to comb the ocean floor in the new search zone. The job is expected to take 12 months to complete.
Meanwhile, two survey ships are mapping uncharted expanses of seabed in the search zone before the sonar scanning starts. Dolan said it was possible the mapping equipment could detect wreckage that may be lying on the seafloor, but that it was highly unlikely.
The search area has changed multiple times in the months since Flight 370 vanished, as officials struggled to make sense of the limited data the flight left in its wake after it dropped off radar. The new search zone was largely identified by an analysis of hourly transmissions, or “handshakes,” between the plane and a satellite.
Truss said he was optimistic that the latest search zone is, indeed, the most likely crash site. But he warned that finding the plane remains a huge task.
“The search will still be painstaking,” he said. “Of course, we could be fortunate and find it in the first hour or the first day — but it could take another 12 months.”
The former Malaysian Prime Minister accused the C.I.A., Boeing and the media of covering up crucial facts about the missing plane
A former Malaysian leader on Sunday accused American intelligence agents of covering up what really happened to the Malaysia Airlines plane missing since March.
Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad claimed that Flight 370, which disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board, claimed that the CIA could have taken control of the Boeing 777, and lamented that the Malaysian government is bearing the brunt of the blame for a mystery that sparked a massive, expensive and as-of-yet unsuccessful international search for the plane.
“What goes up must come down,” Mohamad wrote in a blog post. “Airplanes can go up and stay up for long periods of time. But even they must come down eventually. They can land safely or they may crash. But airplanes don’t just disappear. Certainly not these days with all the powerful communication systems, radio and satellite tracking and filmless cameras which operate almost indefinitely and possess huge storage capacities.”
Mohamad said “the ‘uninterruptible’ autopilot would be activated—either by pilot, by on board sensors, or even remotely by radio or satellite links by government agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency, if terrorists attempt to gain control of the flight deck.”
No evidence has emerged to support his theory, one of many conspiracy theories that have proliferated since the plane disappeared. Authorities believe it crashed in the Indian Ocean and that no one survived.
“Clearly Boeing and certain agencies have the capacity to take over ‘uninterruptible control’ of commercial airliners of which MH370 B777 is one,” Mohamed wrote.
“Someone is hiding something,” he added. “It is not fair that… Malaysia should take the blame. For some reason the media will not print anything that involves Boeing or the CIA.”
Welcome to #theBrief, the four stories to know about right now -- from the editors of TIME+ READ ARTICLE
Leading off today is the news, or lack thereof, on the missing Malaysian Airlines flight. The hunt continues as the search area widens. Then, the shocking cellphone footage of a circus accident that injured nine acrobats. In sports, the Clippers advanced to the second round of the NBA playoffs despite the turmoil surrounding owner Donald Sterling after his racist remarks. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar weighs in on racism inside and out of sports. To beat the Mondays, we end with a joke, courtesy of President Barack Obama who let them have it at the White House Correspondents Association dinner Saturday night. Here are the 17 meanest jokes from the annual event.
The agency responsible for search efforts gives little credence to a theory that Flight 370 crashed off the coast of Bangladesh as grief-stricken relatives of missing passengers are told to vacate their hotel rooms in Kuala Lumpur and head home
The multinational team investigating the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 emphasized Friday that it was closing in on the missing jet, just hours after distraught relatives of passengers were told to go home and that family assistance centers were to be shuttered.
“I’m quietly confident that we’re on the right track, but the challenges ahead are huge,” Malaysia’s acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters Friday afternoon.
The previous day, he announced that hotel accommodation in Malaysia would no longer be provided for family members, who would instead be kept abreast of developments by phone, email and SMS. Initial compensation would also be paid to the bereaved.
On Monday a tripartite meeting will be held in Canberra between Australian, Malaysian and Chinese authorities to discuss the way ahead. Assembled media were told in Kuala Lumpur that combing the expanded search area — which now measures 435 by 50 miles — in the southern Indian Ocean would take eight to 12 months, depending on weather and other variables.
MH 370 departed the Malaysian capital for Beijing at 12:21 a.m. on March 8 but vanished from radar screens around 40 minutes later. In the absence of any radar tracking, investigators have been forced to rely on pioneering analysis by British firm Inmarsat of hourly maintenance signals emitted from the plane. That analysis indicated the Boeing 777 crashed somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean.
Four other signals were subsequently heard from the seabed around 1,000 miles northwest of Perth, which investigators believe came from the doomed plane’s black boxes. Yet despite a thorough search of the vicinity by unmanned submarine, as well as hundreds of air and surface reconnaissance missions, not a single piece of debris has been found.
Earlier this week, Australian geological survey firm GeoResonance suggested the southern Indian Ocean theory may be flawed, and argued that its multispectral analysis of the Bay of Bengal showed a deposit of metals and other substances consistent with the wreckage of a plane around 120 miles south of Bangladesh.
Angus Houston, in charge of the joint search operation, said a three-ship fleet from Bangladesh was currently conducting a sonic survey of the seabed where GeoResonance believes the plane to be lying, but he did not give weight to the company’s findings. “I’m confident that the area in the Southern Ocean is the right search area, and I’m sure in the fullness of time we shall find the aircraft in that area,” he said.
Hishammuddin even suggested the Bay of Bengal search was being done to placate grieving relatives. “If we are irresponsible in our approach in going forward with that [GeoResonance] lead,” he said, “we also have to understand the emotions of the families.”
On Thursday, Malaysia’s Transport Ministry released a report stating that it took 17 minutes for air-traffic controllers to realize MH 370 was missing from radar screens and another four hours before a search operation was launched.
The report also called for the real-time tracking of aircraft and improved batteries for the black-box flight recorders. The devices’ beacons currently only last for about 30 days, and this has considerably hampered the search for MH 370. The recommendation will now be considered by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Improving black-box batteries was backed by Jean-Paul Troadec, head of the French aviation-accident investigation bureau responsible for finding Air France Flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on June 1, 2009. He was also present in Kuala Lumpur to bolster efforts.
“I know that some airlines have acted on their own to increase the duration of the batteries,” he said. “My suggestion is that any airline [should] not wait for the requirement from the ICAO to change the batteries on their recorders.”
However, this very same recommendation was also put forward after the Air France disaster but never acted upon, aircraft-accident investigator David Newbery tells TIME. During that crash, 228 people died, and the black boxes took two years to recover despite the fact that floating wreckage was spotted within hours, giving a vital clue as to where the sunken data recorders might be found.
“In the aviation industry, because of the certification and the cost and everything else, things happen a lot slower than we would all like them to,” says Newbery. He points out that flight recorders are very complex pieces of equipment built to withstand high G-forces, extreme temperatures and other inhospitable conditions, and exorbitant costs make any improvement unpopular for cash-strapped airlines.
“You can’t just put in a different battery and hope it will work,” says Newbery. “It will take some design and testing before this comes out.”
A geological survey company says it has evidence suggesting that MH370 crashed off the coast of Bangladesh, not Australia
The hunt for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 should turn several thousand kilometers from the southern Indian Ocean to the Bay of Bengal, say supporters of new evidence that could suggest that the doomed jet may have crashed around 190 km (120 miles) south of Bangladesh.
Australian company GeoResonance uses radiation scanning technology to locate significant concentrations of minerals and metals. By comparing images of the Bay of Bengal before and after the jet disappeared, the firm uncovered what it believes to be a sudden deposit of aluminum — the chief component of the Boeing 777 that vanished shortly after departing Kuala Lumpur on March 8 — along with titanium, jet-fuel residue and other key substances that may indicate the wreckage of a commercial airliner on the seabed.
Nothing has been confirmed, but the firm says that the technology has previously “been successfully applied to locate submersed structures, ships, munitions and aircraft.” It stresses that it “is not declaring this is MH 370” but that the findings should be investigated.
Malaysian acting Transportation Minister Hishammuddin Hussein says Malaysia is “working with its international partners to assess the credibility of this information.”
The Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC), which runs the search from Australia, has dismissed GeoResonance’s suggestion, with officials in Perth saying they are “satisfied” four signals detected in the Indian Ocean came from the black boxes of the missing aircraft.
Those signals were plotted along a corridor defined by analysis of maintenance data by British satellite firm Inmarsat. Hundreds of air and sea reconnaissance missions have been launched based on the analysis, making the search operation the most expensive in history. An underwater drone continues to operate along this route.
However, by Inmarsat’s own admission, the calculations that defined the southern search corridor had never been done before. The firm’s refusal to release raw data, despite repeated desperate pleas from distraught relatives, means the scientific community has been unable to critique or corroborate the findings.
Jules Jaffe, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, in California, tells TIME that he would like to think the Indian Ocean pings came from MH370, but: “One would really want to see the data to be more confident of that. I really hope that they have the quantitative analysis to back up their claims.”
There are difficulties with GeoResonance’s theory. While multispectral analysis has been used to discover subterranean mining deposits, electromagnetic radiation is absorbed by seawater, and many simply do not accept that it is capable of detecting a plane lying under a kilometer of ocean. David Gallo of the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who co-led the search for Air France Flight 447, told CNN the data was “perplexing on a number of fronts.”
Nonetheless, GeoResonance says, “The company and its directors are surprised by the lack of response from the various authorities.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott says the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is entering a "new phase" as air and sea reconnaissance are called off in favor of sonar, which officials say will take at least six months to thoroughly scan the area
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has vowed that Australia will do “everything we humanly can” to locate the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, even though several weeks of air and sea-surface searches are being called off.
“It is now 52 days since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared, and I’m here to inform you that the search will be entering a new phase,” he said at a news conference Monday. “I want the families to know, I want the world to know, that Australia will not shirk its responsibilities in this area.”
With officials believing it is extremely unlikely any wreckage from the twin-engine plane could still be floating, air and sea-surface reconnaissance is being canceled in favor of sonar searches by submersibles.
A total of 239 passengers and crew were aboard the Boeing 777 when it vanished shortly after departing Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8. Subsequent analysis of data received via satellite indicates that the jet crashed somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean.
Some investigators believe that four signals detected some 1,000 miles (1,600 km) northwest of Perth, Australia, came from the aircraft’s black boxes. However, considerable doubts persist because no debris has been recovered.
The original search undertaken by the Bluefin-21 underwater drone was defined by a 6-mile (10 km) radius around the location of the second signal, which was deemed the most promising. Now, though, more equipment will be brought in, likely though private contractors, to search a much larger zone.
Officials believe it will take at least six months to thoroughly comb the broader search area with side-scan sonar.
“We just want to get the best equipment and the best people to bring this search to a successful conclusion,” said Abbott. “We will not let people down and while the search will be moving to a new phase in coming weeks, it certainly is not ending.”
Some have questioned why the U.S.-made Bluefin-21 was deployed for such a long time. In 15 missions, it failed to turn up any evidence of the missing aircraft and some of the search area was considerably deeper than the device’s 2.8-mile (4.5 km) maximum operating depth.
However, Angus Houston, in charge of joint search efforts, said the Bluefin’s “highly adaptive, highly flexible” nature made the autonomous underwater vehicle the “perfect platform” for examining a focused area, whereas towed side-scan sonars are much less maneuverable and so are better saved for making sweeps of larger areas of water.