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China’s robust participation has created some trust issues among the searching nations. Malaysia was reluctant to reveal raw data from its military radar system that tracked the missing plane, presumably over fears of disclosing sensitive secrets about its radar capabilities, especially the rate and range they can gather aviation data. Beijing has pushed for Kuala Lumpur to share all of its radar intelligence.

While the PLA’s vessels and aircraft were combing key areas in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, China rejected in anger the Malaysian announcement that Flight MH370 crashed into the Indian Ocean with no survivors — likely because the conclusion might end the military’s roaming activities in the region.

Beijing has vowed to continue the search until the plane or its wreckage is found, a convenient justification for a de facto permanent Chinese military presence, should the plane never be found.

China has territorial disputes with most of the nations along the possible flight path of the missing plane, including Vietnam, India, the Philippines and Malaysia. Vietnam took the high road in allowing two PLA Tu-154 jets to enter its airspace in the search; Australia also permitted two Chinese military IL-76 transport aircraft to use its air force base in Perth.

But India reportedly rejected China’s request to search sensitive parts of the Indian-controlled Andaman Sea and Nicobar Islands, highlighting New Delhi’s growing wariness of China’s regional power.

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at and @Yu_miles.