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China employs all-encompassing boycott of Malaysia in wake of plane disappearance

BEIJING – From beach vacations to entertainers, all things Malaysian are being boycotted in China in protest of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and what many consider the bungled investigation that has followed.

Major Chinese ticketing agencies last week banned sales of airplane tickets to Malaysia, with one of them, eLong, saying it would maintain the stricture “indefinitely until the Malaysian government and Malaysia Airlines release every piece of information they have in order to find out the truth of the missing flight as soon as possible.”

On Friday, family members of the missing, who have been gathered in Beijing’s Lido Hotel since the flight’s disappearance March 8, boycotted a regular news conference held by Malaysia Airlines, leaving airline personnel in a conference room with just journalists.

Even a popular singer, Fish Leong – an ethnically Chinese Malaysian who is pregnant – has been beset by threats on her microblog, with angry Chinese cursing her unborn child.

Of 227 passengers on the ill-fated flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, 153 were Chinese nationals. Their families have been encouraging the campaign, with denunciations growing increasingly shrill.

“Shameless executioners!” a Shandong-based businesswoman wrote on a microblog. “Malaysia should disappear from the face of the Earth.”

The airline has closed down an information office it had opened at Beijing’s Lido Hotel for relatives of the missing, saying that it was advised to do so by Chinese authorities fearful that airline employees might be attacked. At some briefings, family members have thrown water bottles at airline officials.

The Malaysian government has drawn criticism worldwide for the way it has handled the search. Days were wasted searching for the plane along its flight path over the South China Sea because Malaysian military radar apparently failed to detect that the flight had turned around and headed toward the Indian Ocean.

More frustration came Friday when it was announced that after 10 days, search efforts off the west coast of Australia were being moved 680 miles to the north.

Chinese celebrities have jumped on the anti-Malaysia bandwagon, using their microblogs to drum up support for the boycott.

“Malaysia ... you are wrong not to revere life. You are wrong not to respect the universal quest for truth,” wrote Zhang Ziyi, one of China’s best-known actresses, on her Sina Weibo account.

“I’ve never been to Malaysia, and I do not plan to go there in the future. If you feel the same, please retweet this message,” wrote Meng Fei, the host of a popular TV dating show. His message was retweeted 337,000 times.

Malaysian officials are increasingly pushing back, noting that other countries that lost people on the flight are behaving in a “rational” manner – a clear dig at the Chinese.

“I just want to say to the Chinese families – it is not just them,” Malaysia’s acting transportation minister, Hishamuddin Hussein, said Friday at a Kuala Lumpur news conference. “Fourteen other nations have lost family members.”

In an editorial in the Beijing News on Thursday, columnist Pan Caifu criticized Chinese celebrities who have tried to score points by beating up on Malaysia, a country that is 30 percent ethnically Chinese.

“Malaysia has over a dozen Chinese-language newspapers and between 400 to 500 Chinese-language schools and two Chinese-language universities,” the columnist wrote. “When public sentiment is inflamed, the media and public figures should be more calm and rational than the ordinary people, instead of fanning the flames.”

Meanwhile, the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 resumed in earnest Saturday as surveillance planes returned to the skies above a newly defined search area in the southern Indian Ocean and spotted floating debris for the second day in a row, and a flotilla of vessels began arriving in the zone to find and identify the objects, the Australian authorities said.

Crews on two of the ships pulled several items from the water, but investigators determined that the objects were not from the missing plane, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is overseeing the search.

But officials involved in the search, mindful of the amount of detritus adrift in the world’s oceans, cautioned that the sightings were inconclusive on their own.

“It is not known how much flotsam, such as from fishing activities, is ordinarily there,” the Maritime Safety Authority said in a statement.

– The New York Times contributed to this report.