The Chinese web is often humorous, sometimes funny and often sarcastic, but most of these qualities are gone now that netizens are speculating over the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, a tragic event which is likely to have cost the lives of over two hundred people.
There is a lot to speculate on, for the disappearance of the aircraft is not only a major incident in aviation history, but seems poised to become also one of its great mysteries. On March 8, a Boeing 777 directed from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing vanished from the radars and five days later no news has yet emerged on its whereabouts. Nor is there any news of the 239 passengers who were on board.
The Chinese blogosphere mirrors widespread feelings toward the tragedy: sadness and disbelief. One Weibo user – Weibo is the Chinese equivalent of Twitter – argued that he just “started believing in unnatural forces.” “I truly hope,” wrote another, “that the MH370 flight is like one of the unsolved mysteries one reads about in books, when [a plane] flies into ‘a crack in time’ to a place where they will never grow old and one day they will reappear”.
While some worry about a terrorist attack – “someone must have hijacked the plane,” a blogger argued – it is interesting to note that there is not much discussion of such a possibility. That is in stark contrast to the media around the world, which have flaunted the hypothesis from the very beginning of the story.
That the accident might have been man-made seemed more plausible when authorities found out that two of the passengers on board had fake passports. The documents originally belonged to two European expats – Christian Kozel from Austria and Luigi Maraldi from Italy – before they were stolen in Thailand. The illegal travelers were destined for Europe via Beijing, a move which would have avoided controls both in China – where they did not need a visa – and in Europe, where they would be admitted without having to pass through embassies and consulates, as they possessed European IDs.
The recent discovery of the identities of the two illegal passengers – Pouri Nour Mohammadi and Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza, both of Iranian origin – has further decreased the probability that the accident has anything to do with terrorism. Interpol secretary general Ronald Noble argued on March 11 that the two were “probably not terrorists.” At least one netizen agrees: “the thing has taken a wrong turn at the start! What’s the point of investigating the fake passports when it’s obviously they’re stowaways. Why not terrorists? Because [the mom of one of them] was waiting for him in Frankfurt! Hurry up searching the black box,” wrote a user nicknamed Emo.
The fact that terrorism is little discussed is all the more striking as China has just suffered a deadly attack in Kunming, the provincial Capital of Yunnan. On March 1, a group of people dressed in black – both men and women – entered the local railway station armed with knives and slaughtered everyone in their path, leaving 29 dead and over 100 injured. The terrorist action was linked by the government to separatist forces in the western province of Xinjiang, where ethnic tensions simmer between local Uighurs and the Han.
While Chinese online writers are busy discussing possibilities, the government is also paying particular attention to the event. Beijing has good reason to do so – 150 passengers on board were Chinese nationals – and authorities have sent planes and vessels to join the rescue. Reportedly, Beijing has also deployed 10 satellites to search the ocean for the aircraft.
At the time of this writing, various hypotheses remain on the table. The pilot might have committed suicide, taking the lives of the passengers with his own. The plane might have been hijacked or wrecked, and a technical failure might also be the case. With so many possibilities still being considered, expect more discussion on social media to follow.