By Maxim Duncan
Furious Chinese families threatened on Tuesday to go on hunger strike until the Malaysian government tells them the truth about the fate of their relatives aboard a Malaysia Airlines flight which went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Ten days after the airliner vanished an hour into its flight, hundreds of family members are still waiting for information in a Beijing hotel.
Around two thirds of the 239 passengers on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 are Chinese.
Families vented their pain and anger on Chinese representatives sent by the airline to meet them on Tuesday and demanded to see the Malaysian ambassador.
“What we want is the truth. Don’t let them become victims of politics. No matter what political party you are, no matter how much power you have, if there isn’t life, what’s the point? Where is compassion?” asked one middle-aged woman angrily.
“You’re always going back and forth. I think your government knows in their heart why we want you to answer us. Because you’re always tricking us, telling us lies,” added one man.
China has repeatedly called on the Malaysian side to do a better job at looking after the relatives of the Chinese passengers, and to provide them with updated information.
“China has all along demanded that the Malaysian side and Malaysia Airlines earnestly respond to the reasonable requests of the Chinese families,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a daily news briefing.
The Chinese representative from the airline said what information the families received was beyond his control.
“I can accept the criticisms and mistakes that you have pointed out. But the problem is that some information and material we really have no way to access. From my position, I really cannot access it. So I beg for your forgiveness,” he said.
As the representatives left, families shouted after them, chanting slogans with their fists in the air.
“Keep protesting, Respect life, Don’t let them become victims of politics, Tell us the truth!” they shouted.
Speaking to reporters, a woman who had led the chanting held up a piece of paper with slogans written on it, and said the families were calling for a hunger strike.
“Respect life, return our relatives. Can everyone read it? Can everyone read it?” she asked.
“We’re going on hunger strike. I’m representing,” she said.
“The families are on the point of collapse. There are so many families coming and going, some have already left. The young people can stand it, but the elderly have already broken down,” she shouted.
It was not clear how many of the relatives would join the hunger strike, or if it had even begun.
A man surnamed Wen whose son was aboard the plane repeated demands to see the ambassador.
“We haven’t yet decided whether we will go to the embassy, but we demand that the Malaysian ambassador come and represent the government to come and answer the families’ questions and give them some information. They’re secretive, they never tell the truth,” he said.
Anger has also spread online, with some Chinese calling on the government to impose sanctions on Malaysia for its poor handling of the incident.
“Malaysia knew that the plane changed direction, yet concealed it, knew that it was not in South China Sea, yet let everyone look there for several days, and they are still hiding all kinds of information,” one user wrote on microblogging site Sina Weibo. “This rogue state really should be sanctioned.”