US ‘holding back’ in MH370 search to avoid leaking intel to China

A US Navy Boeing P-8A Poseidon military aircraft prepares to assist in search and rescue operations for flight MH370 on March 18, 2014. (Photo/CFP)

A US Navy Boeing P-8A Poseidon military aircraft prepares to assist in search and rescue operations for flight MH370 on March 18, 2014. (Photo/CFP)


The United States could be withholding information in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 out of fears that military or technological secrets could be leaked to China, reports iFeng, the website of Hong Kong’s Phoenix Television.

Flight MH370 has been missing since the early hours of March 8 when it disappeared from radar contact en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing along with 239 people on board, the majority of them Chinese nationals. The massive international search involving 26 countries is continuing in two potential flight corridors — a northern corridor from northern Thailand through to the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and a southern coridor from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean — identified using satellite signals received nearly seven hours after the jet lost contact with ground control.

The iFeng report alleges that Boeing, the US manufacturer of the plane, and Rolls-Royce, its engine maker, had indeed received flight-time diagnostic data from the missing B777-200 for up to four hours after it disappeared as claimed by media reports last week, but were prevented by US authorities from divulging the information as it contained military secrets it wants to keep from China.

To avoid being sanctioned by US authorities, Rolls-Royce and Boeing had no choice but to publicly deny holding the information, though at the same time they intentionally leaked their technological capabilities to media outlets to avoid damaging their prospects in the Chinese market, iFeng said.

According to the iFeng report, there is a precedent for why US companies are wary of releasing technical expertise to China. During the 1980s, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the main contractor of the Chinese space program, cooperated with American aerospace and defense contractor Hughes Aircraft Company on satellite technology. When the two sides exchanged information in the hope of determining why a particular launch failed, the US company divulged key technical knowledge to the Chinese company that helped the latter advance its satellite technology by 10 years. The US government subsequently issued heavy penalties against Hughes and put the entire industry on alert when dealing with Chinese aerospace counterparts.

The US has therefore deliberately taken a back seat in the investigation into flight MH370 because it is concerned about demonstrating its military and technological might to rivals such as China, iFeng said. The US should have by far the most data on the whereabouts of the missing plane as it has military bases in Singapore, the Indian Ocean and Thailans, the report said, adding that the United States also uses military radar in Afghanistan and Pakistan and is an ally of Australia in the south. Combined with its weather satellites, marine satellites and spy satellites, it is difficult to understand why the US has not taken the lead in the search and investigation, iFeng said.

On the other hand, China has maintained a high profile in the search in the South China Sea, the Strait of Malacca and the Indian Ocean with its top military vessels while also announcing the use of 10 satellites in the hope of tracking down new clues.

While the opportunity arose by accident, it has allowed Chinese vessels and aircraft to venture into previously prohibited waters. At the same time, observing the United States has made China realize the gap it still has to make up if it intends to challenge its main competitor’s military or technological capabilities.

Chinese military expert Zhang Zhaozhong says the US may have already independently initiated their own investigation into the missing plane and will likely be the ones to solve the mystery in the end.

Zhang said, while Malaysia is coordinating the overall search efforts, the US has remained very collected amid the chaos because it “knows too much.” In the post-911 world, US authorities may well hold detailed information on both pilots and all the plane’s crew, including their emails, telephone logs and internet activity, Zhang added.

Malaysia Airlines commercial director Hugh Dunleavy revealed to the families of passengers on March 13 in Beijing that the US National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration have already set up their own independent inquiry into flight MH370.



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