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Pings detected by Chinese patrol ship a month ago dismissed as a false lead in the search for flight MH370.

New York (USAsian Network Business & Industry News) Wed, Apr 16, 2014 - When civil aviation experts from around Asia huddled in January to study how they might coordinate search-and-rescue following an ocean plane crash, China's government sent word that it lacked a response program but didn't dispatch anyone to attend. Still, just over a month later, China's government mounted a full-throttle response to the disappearance of Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines 3786.KU +2.38% Flight 370 by sending planes and ships to the search area. Noting that more than half the 239 people on the March 8 flight were nationals of China, its diplomats vigorously engaged other governments-in some cases through the same individuals who organized the regional search-preparation event China had just missed for the second year in a row. It takes two hours for the Bluefin-21 underwater vehicle to reach the seabed to search for remnants of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Why do authorities think it's now the best hope for finding the missing plane? WSJ's Jason Bellini has #TheShortAnswer. China's strategy during the search for Flight 370 provides a rare peek at how Asia's emerging superpower interacts with its neighbors during a crisis. It also hints at Beijing's eagerness to project a softer side to its expanding military machine that has rattled nerves across the region. Since the plane disappeared nearly 40 days ago, people involved in the search say China proved a determined and forceful first responder, if sometimes overconfident, disorganized and incorrect. As an outsider to deep political and military alliances built over decades by Washington, China has demanded an inside track to information but has shown less appetite to partner with the broader 26-nation coalition. The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 may cause minor environmental damage. The WSJ's Joanne Po speaks to marine biologist Tim O'Hara. Chinese diplomats-ordered by President Xi Jinping the day the plane went missing to involve themselves in the process-pressed senior leaders in capitals across Asia, at times souring an atmosphere already thick with difficulties for families and officials, the people involved in the search said. "International efforts in the search operation clearly show this region has the capacity to face challenges," said Hong Lei, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry. "Since the plane went missing the Malaysian side has coordinated international search efforts and put in enormous resources. We would like to continue our cooperation with the relevant parties." The disappearance of a U.S.-made jetliner carrying mostly Chinese passengers also highlights contrasting styles of rival powers, each with an interest in the investigation. "If you were a country torn between the two, which country would you turn to in a time of crisis?" asked a person close to the investigation in Malaysia. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board "have all made substantial contributions to finding out what happened," the official said, adding that the U.S. has also had "meaningful and direct impact" by supplying critical equipment like a black-box location device, a Bluefin-21 submersible and P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft. "On the Chinese side, we've had some satellite images released by mistake, questionable underwater search techniques, and a drumbeat of criticism of Malaysia," the person said, in a reference to Chinese satellite images early in the search that mistakenly put the wreckage in the South China Sea. Friction between Malaysian and Chinese officials emerged from the earliest days of the operation, prompting criticism from both countries the other had mishandled the search. After Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on March 24 said the plane's flight "ended in the southern Indian Ocean," which the airline called "beyond any reasonable doubt," China's government-run Xinhua news agency blasted the Malaysian message as "clumsily conceived and, sadly, even more poorly executed." The following day, Chinese police stood by when family members of passengers marched on Malaysia's embassy in Beijing. Police later ignored taunts to Malaysia's China ambassador, Iskandar Bin Sarudin, even as he sobbed through a brief statement: "If you don't know anything, why are you here?" one relative charged. Others echoed a woman who loudly demanded the ambassador drop to his knees before her, a cowering demonstration of apology. He didn't respond. Mr. Hong, the foreign ministry spokesman, said in a written response to questions that China's government shares the concerns and anxiety of family members. "We noticed that the majority of family members of Chinese passengers and the public are expressing their concerns and feelings in a rational and objective manner," he said. Tension eased after the search shifted southward, closer to Australia; that nation welcomed Chinese planes to one of its air bases and coordinated with the crew of a Chinese icebreaker it had built a partnership with months earlier during a rescue near Antarctica. "We were effectively in an honest broker's role. We have reasonably good relations with most of the players," said Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, or ATSB. Yet, in early April, when China's team reported hearing undersea pulses possibly from the jetliner's equipment, what initially seemed like a breakthrough also highlighted the kind of frustration that officials in other countries say China's processes have repeatedly caused. According to a Western military official close to the search, after the pings were heard by a detector towed from China's Haixun 01 patrol ship, Chinese investigators relayed the findings thousands of miles north to Beijing, rather than alert ships and planes already nearby in the southern Indian Ocean. That reporting system, reflecting China's centralized command structure, unnecessarily delayed the information flow and frustrated other searchers, according to the military official. It's not known how long it took China to share its findings with other investigating teams. Xinhua published news of the detected pulses on the evening of April 5, more than a day after pulses were first detected. When reporters asked search officials in Australia and Malaysia about the findings, their comments suggested all they knew was what Xinhua reported in its three-sentence dispatch. Over the next few days, and as fears were growing that black-box batteries were nearing expiration, Australian officials using a U.S.-supplied device also detected pings in what turned out to be some of the most important leads yet in the investigation. Ultimately, the Chinese pings were dismissed as a false lead by both the search teams on the British HMS Echo and the ATSB. The Chinese pings appear to have been based on hydrophone equipment with such short range that the ATSB, which owns similar devices, decided not to send it along with its search crew on the navy vessel Ocean Shield because it is typically only used by scuba divers in shallow waters. The January meeting by aviation-safety officials from 15 countries under the auspices of the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations body, aimed to plot how governments in the region could mount an international search following an air disaster at sea, according to a 73-page summary. Scott Constable, a senior rescue official in the Australian Maritime Safety Authority who has emerged as a key figure in the search for Flight 370, chaired the Singapore meeting. He declined to comment on the Chinese absence as did officials at various departments at China's at the Civil Aviation Administration of China. In Singapore, Mr. Constable proposed ways to build a regional plan for "oceanic and remote area" search and rescue, according to the summary, including learning lessons from a 2009 Air France AF.FR +0.61% crash into the Atlantic-an event experts say provides a blueprint for the continuing Indian Ocean search. "You always know there's going to be some event in the future," said another participant, Steven W. Lett, head of the secretariat of the International Cospas-Sarsat Program, a Montreal-based emergency-response system. Knowing response officers in other countries, Mr. Lett said, "makes everything go so much easier when they have these emergency events." online.wsj.com

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Publication:USAsian Network News & Business & Industry News
Geographic Code:0PACI
Date:Apr 21, 2014
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