BEIJING — The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has sparked rumors and conspiracy theories, and generally obsessed people — around the world. But with most of the passengers on board being from China, the most speculation is swirling around Chinese society, both on official news sources and in social media — particularly Weibo, China’s indigenous microblogging platform. Here is a sample of some of the most notable explanations of what happened:
1) BAY OF BENGAL “Flight MH370 has already landed in the Indian Ocean … I firmly believe that Boeing airplane is in a small island in the Bay of Bengal.” This theory comes from the single most popular post on Weibo on March 17 concerning the missing plane. The conjecture, posted on the Weibo page of “Hawaii 188”, follows the reasoning that the airplane couldn’t have flown to more distant destinations without showing up on radars in nearby countries.
2) HIJACKED Also popular on Weibo is the presumption that terrorists commandeered the airliner and forced it to fly to (crash in) a variety of locations.
3) SHOT DOWN The suspected culprit: the Vietnamese air force. Not only was the plane's last contact over Vietnam, but Chinese-Vietnamese relations are at their lowest point in recent memory.
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Route of Malaysia-Airlines-MH370 with search area inserted. Small circles are claimed sighting of debris — Source: Wikimedia Commons
4) ALIENS No comment.
5) DIEGO GARCIA The Henan Business Daily floated the scenario in which the U.S. military could have hijacked the plane and brought it to the Diego Garcia naval base in order to protect some unnamed top-secret technology. But the same article cites terrorism expert Li Jun saying: “This type of theory has almost zero credibility” because of the huge risks such a reckless move would entail for America’s international reputation. Right.
6) ANWAR IBRAHIM Could the plane's disappearance be linked to Malaysian domestic politics? The Chinese press has noted that the pilot of the flight was a supporter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who has been prosecuted by the Malaysian government for sodomy. Although Ibrahim was acquitted in 2012, his acquittal was overturned just days before Malaysia Air 370 went missing. Elections in Malaysia are set for March 23.
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Anwar Ibrahim in 2008 — Photo: udeyismail
7) UYGHURS For many in China, the first reaction after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was declared missing was the possibility of the incident being linked to ethnic Uyghur separatists — after all, China’s bloodiest terrorist attack in living memory occurred only a few days ago, when 29 people were stabbed to death in the city of Kunming. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang warned reporters: “It is too early to jump to conclusions …. Avoid circulating unconfirmed information”.
*Brendan O’Reilly is a writer and educator based in China, specialized in Chinese foreign policy. He is the author of 50 Things You Didn’t Know About China (Alchemy Books, upcoming). He blogs at chineserelations.net.