BEIJING (AP) — Commentary in China's state-run media Monday urged people to react "rationally" to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, after days of protests by passengers' relatives who say Malaysia has mishandled the investigation.
Many Chinese kin of passengers have expressed extreme skepticism over accounts by the Malaysian government, maintaining it is not telling all it knows about the plane's disappearance March 8 and expressing frustration that it concluded the jet went down in the Indian Ocean without any physical evidence.
Several dozen of the relatives traveled to Malaysia on Sunday and staged a protest after arriving, holding up banners that read "We want evidence, truth, dignity" in Chinese, and "Hand us the murderer. Tell us the truth. Give us our relatives back."
Empowered by a situation in which they can demand answers from a foreign government in a way that they cannot normally expect to do at home, the relatives have been strident in grilling Malaysian authorities for information, Beijing-based commentator Zhang Lifan said.
"There is no obstacle for them to question the Malaysian government in order to defend their rights. Put in similar scenarios but with the Chinese government in place, they won't find it that easy to question the authorities," he said.
Social media have been augmenting a general sense of negativity toward Malaysia by giving voice to rumors, doubts, speculation and paranoia, while seeming to offer some family members false hope, said writer and social commentator Ren Yi, a graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and grandson of one of the communist state's founding fathers.
"Cynicism and distrust of the authorities are Chinese national traits," Ren wrote in a post on his blog that he verified in an online chat with The Associated Press.
Accounts forwarded on Chinese social media — especially on popular mobile message services — have it that the plane is being held hostage deep in Central Asia, that Malaysia shot it down because hijackers wanted to crash it into Kuala Lumpur's twin towers or that the U.S. diverted it to a remote island to prevent secret information from reaching China.
China's censors have not reined in the discourse about the missing Malaysia Airlines jet with the same urgency they normally would on stories that cast Beijing in a bad light. However, there are signs authorities are aiming to dial down the volume.
Commentary in the state-run China Daily on Monday said that "we should not let anger prevail over facts and rationality."
"No matter how distressed we are and how many details that are not clear, it is certain that flight MH370 crashed in the Indian Ocean and no one on board survived," said the comments attributed to Mei Xinyu, a researcher at the International Trade and Economic Cooperation Institute of China's Commerce Ministry.,
Malaysia's prime minister announced a week ago that satellite data left no doubt that the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean far from any possible landing site. The next day, a group of about 100 Chinese relatives of passengers and their supporters marched on the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing, throwing water bottles and demanding firm evidence of the plane's fate.
In the ensuing days, Chinese celebrities denounced Malaysia, and tour companies announced Malaysia Airlines flight boycotts until passengers' relatives are satisfied with that government's response.
The fallout has dented otherwise friendly China-Malaysia relations, and could cut into Malaysia's tourism revenue if the tourism boycott becomes substantial. But it is unlikely to be more than a "very limited, temporary phenomenon," said Zheng Yongnian, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore.
"When disaster happens, it's common for people to get emotional. It's inevitable," Zheng said. "This is not a natural disaster but related to human beings, so people would have conspiracy theories. It is very sentimental."