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Variety is the spice of life, but sometimes also puzzling

Lavina Thompson connects with her inner xenophobia

As the weather clears again today, and the multi-country search for the missing Malaysian airliner MH370 resumes in the southern Indian Ocean, I venture with some trepidation into the world of media comment, mindful of the anguish of the relatives of those have been lost as they seek closure upon the tragic disaster.

At the risk of attracting the wrath of the political-correct brigade, there is a degree to which we Brits traditionally take a condescendingly jaundiced view of all countries beyond the English Channel, in whichever direction you choose to look.

It’s not just the one-eyed theme that you cannot trust Johnny-Foreigner. It’s an observation that, generally-speaking, the self-satisfied standards of a Western-style ‘free’ democracy – however hypocritical and inappropriate that description – do not seem to apply elsewhere in the world.

Take the current Ukrainian crisis. The bald truth is that the populations of the former USSR countries instinctively accept that ‘the political elite’ will orchestrate and determine all political decisions, whilst the ability of the people to influence anything is extremely limited. It’s always been like that, so why worry about it?

If strategic geo-politics is all that matters to the political elite of a country, that is what will dominate the political agenda.

The same goes for Libya … Syria … the Middle East … and anywhere else you might care to mention, including China. Maybe especially China.

As the Malaysian airliner crisis has developed over the past fortnight, I’ve been repeatedly struck by what I have come to regard as the strange, paranoid and belligerent reactions of the Chinese relatives of those missing i.e. the majority of those upon the passenger list of the doomed airliner.

It has seemed to me that the Malaysian authorities have had a bit of a raw deal in terms of the world’s perception of its actions and pronouncements. If you don’t know much – or indeed anything – it’s surely best to admit it, even if this risks prompting allegations of incompetence?

Instead, as the Chinese relatives of the missing passengers have been holed up in one hotel after another, their speculations and fears have naturally gathered pace and grown.

They have come to believe that the Malaysian government has known more about what happened than it has let on. That it has told untruths. That it has simply issued platitudes and/or whatever it takes to temporarily satisfy its audience. That it has in some way, perhaps even by negligent omission, caused the disaster.

There have been comments in the media that part of the problem is that the average member of the Chinese public harbours an innate distrust of Chinese public authorities – and it is the Malaysian government’s misfortune to be on the receiving end of similar misgivings, simply on the basis that the Chinese public assume that public authorities the world over are alike.

Even allowing for that, I do feel that the continuing histrionic displays of the Chinese relatives – borne no doubt of grief and/or an inability to come to terms with what has happened – are slightly unfair on the Malaysians.

What would these Chinese relatives have the Malaysian government do? Would they prefer it if it had operated like the Chinese government might have if the disaster might have occurred to a Chinese airliner, i.e. firstly deny anything had happened … and then maybe, every so often, conduct news conferences and/or issue bulletins that are pure fiction?

Maybe I’m too trusting, but hitherto I have taken the announcements of the Malaysian authorities at face value. When they don’t know anything, they’ve said so. They’ve been careful not to speculate, and to seek full corroborative evidence before suggesting possible theories as to what has happened.

And yet the Chinese relatives have been lamblasting them from pillar to post. I don’t ‘get’ the reasons why.

Could it be because the Chinese and Western cultures are just different? Or could it even be because somehow the Chinese authorities are facilitating, if not encouraging, the relatives’ mood?

I don’t have the answers. Maybe there aren’t any.

 

About Lavinia Thompson

A university lecturer for many years, both at home and abroad, Lavinia Thompson retired in 2008 and has since taken up freelance journalism. She is currently studying for a distant learning degree in geo-political science and lives in Norwich with her partner. More Posts