- - Thursday, April 24, 2014

One of China’s most publicized technological accomplishments is the Sea Dragon manned deep-sea submersible that boasts the world’s greatest capability for range of depth. But when the vessel is needed the most — in the search for the missing Malaysian plane — it has been entirely a no-show. The absence has prompted viral Internet ridicule and frantic government “rumor-pacification” in China.

In June 2012, all of China became enthralled in jubilance over a much-hyped series of reports by the tightly controlled state media reporting that Jiaolong, or the Sea Dragon, carrying two oceanauts, descended to the incredible depth of 7,000 meters, or more than 23,000 feet in the Mariana Trench in the Western Pacific. No other manned submersibles in the world were capable of the feat.

But the Chinese government has been silent about the Sea Dragon at a time when the nation has been eagerly anticipating it to play a pivotal role in finding the missing Malaysian flight MH370 that disappeared with 154 Chinese passengers aboard.

Of the nearly 30 nations involved in the massive seahunt for Flight MH370, China has been the most active, sending the most search assets to take part in the endeavor. Yet the Sea Dragon is the vessel most conspicuously absent.

The possible location of the missing aircraft is in the deep South Indian Ocean west of Australia. With a depth of between 4,000 to 6,000 meters, the presumed wreckage of the missing plane is entirely within reach of the alleged depth range of the Sea Dragon.

Many in China are now questioning the Sea Dragon’s propagandized diving capability, and that has triggered a near panicked reaction from the Beijing government.

On April 10, a Chinese professor sent out a Twitter-like message that went viral nationwide. It said simply: “The government’s website for the Sea Dragon that has been boasted as capable of diving down to 7,000 meters has just swiftly deleted all the Weibo [the Twitter-like social medium] messages after the surprising news that the [MH370’s] Black Box lies only at the depth of between 4,000 and 6,000 meters.”

Within hours, the message was re-tweeted over 7,000 times.

The short message apparently struck a sensitive nerve in the Chinese government. The next day, all media outlets carried vigorous rebuttals to the Weibo claim, calling it “pure malicious fabrication!”

The matter has certainly put the Chinese government in an awkward situation. If the maximum 7,000-meter depth capability claim is not true, then the government obviously was caught in a blatant lie; if it the depth it can dive is accurate, then why has the government not dispatched it to find the missing plane whose hypothesized location is within the claimed dive depth.

Either way, to many in China, the government has once again proved its own disingenuousness.

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com and @Yu_Miles.