Malaysian ship breaks down chasing Chinese frigate?Posted: September 28, 2011
The Global Times last week picked up an interesting story from the Malaysian New Straits Times newspaper:
Malaysian patrol boat almost sinks while chasing Chinese-flagged vessel
According to a September 19 report in the New Straits Times, the Malaysian Navy patrol boat KD Pari sustained a dislodged shaft and nearly sank while pursuing a Chinese-flagged vessel near Danwan Reef 弹丸礁 in the Spratly Islands.
The report claimed that when water started filling the KD Pari’s engine room it was forced to abandon its pursuit of “a foreign vessel violating Malaysia’s territorial waters”.
The story itself is a very significant one, and it has still not appeared anywhere in the international media. (Another Malaysian newspaper has a brief report here.)
But the Global Times‘ treatment of the translation is even more interesting: for a start, the reference to a Chinese vessel that the Global Times emphasizes was actually just a single sentence in the original story.
RMN chief Admiral Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Jaafar said the crew of the Fast Attack Craft-Gun (FAC-G) vessel KD Pari heard a ‘loud bang’ soon after it had departed the island westward to pursue a China-flagged vessel, believed to be a frigate, spotted at Gugusan Semarang Peninjau in the South China Sea at 2.53pm.
This can probably be attributed to the GT’s translators/editors needing to find a local angle to attract Chinese readers’ interest.
But the Global Times‘ direct quote referring to “a foreign vessel violating Malaysia’s territorial waters” is simply nowhere to be found. Malaysia has not accused China of violating its territorial waters.
This too may be explained by the commercial imperative to play up the conflict and create a dramatic crisis narrative of China being encroached upon from all sides. But putting such menacing words into other countries’ mouths like this seems very irresponsible for a People’s Daily-owned, Beijing-based newspaper.
Perhaps the Global Times editors thought the fact that the Malaysian patrol boat had broken down would be entertaining or encouraging for readers. It did indeed capture attention from the Chinese public, in fact it was the fourth-most discussed news story on Phoenix last week, but the focus was certainly not on the Malaysian Navy’s shortcomings. Here are the top-rated comments from the Phoenix discussion, involving 81,854 participants and 1,819 comments:
[China gets] chased in its own territory, yet still comes away self-satisfied. [16593 recommends]
The good thing is that the Chinese ship was fast, otherwise it might have been the one to sink. 
[. . .]
A great country gets chased down in its own traditional waters by a little country’s little ship…ironic! 
First time I’ve heard of being chased away by another country’s navy in our own territorial waters! How can we face all those ancestors! 
Use our country’s aircraft carrier to lure the Malaysians to Sanya [in Hainan Province], then let the Sanya chengguan destroy them! 
So who would stand to benefit from blowing up a story like this? It probably doesn’t do much for hardliners advocating a stronger stance in the South China Sea, since the idea of yet another Southeast Asian country opposing China’s presence might make military measures seem even more futile. But stories about Chinese ships being chased out of the South China Sea by “little” neighbouring countries obviously does nothing for the cause of foreign policy moderates either.
What is clear is that by confirming the strong domestic narrative of China being encroached upon from all sides, stories like these feed a public perception that the government in Beijing is weak, and is even allowing China to be violated, bullied and humiliated. At a time when China is supposed to be ascending to a position of greatness in the world, it is perfectly understandable if many Chinese people find this hard to accept.
Update 29/11: An “alternative explanation” for this incident that appeared on a Chinese forum and has attracted a moderate amount of interest, and much agreement. The “netizens” claim, or rather, wish, that the KD Pari was actually sunk by the Chinese warship, but that Malaysia was too embarrassed to admit this, so it claimed instead that the boat had….simply failed.