Disturbing Reactions to a Tragedy

SCMP September 12 2010


Looking back, hopefully with a degree
of perspective, on the Manila hostage
tragedy, I am left with a sense of
deep disquiet about the attitudes of
the Hong Kong government, politicians
and much of the media. Tragedies
usually bring out the best in people. But they
can also sometimes reveal some unpleasant
attitudes. In that category is the extraordinary
outpouring of media hype and officially
sponsored grief.

The 80,000-strong march involving most
political parties; the official presence at private
funerals; the one-minute silences: what
really was the motive behind this unprecedented,
high-profile public mourning for
private people? What really was behind the
calls for travel boycotts and other measures
against the Philippines and Filipinos?
In the wake of the tragedy, there were
reports of sackings and attacks on Filipino
maids, prompting appeals not to let this
become a racial issue. But a racial issue it
undoubtedly was in Hong Kong where
locals are masters and Filipinos are servants.

For sure, the families and friends of the
victims had every reason for fury at the gunman
for taking innocent foreign lives in pursuit
of a local and personal grudge. Every
reason, too, to be angry at the Manila police
for questionable negotiating tactics and a
bungled rescue operation.

And yet the city treated this as an international
incident focused more on the Philippine
government than the gunman. Beijing
itself initially joined the chorus, demanding
an explanation and proper protection for its
citizens. It soon saw the danger of inciting
too much xenophobia and closed down
mainland media discussion of the issue. But
it does want to see more national and ethnic
consciousness in Hong Kong, so it was no
surprise that the Democratic Alliance for the
Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong was
in the forefront of protests and demands.

Some media described the incident as
“Hong Kong’s 9/11”, even though there was
never any suggestion that the gunman was
ideologically or politically motivated, or that
it was anything other than chance that his
victims were Hong Kong Chinese. The 9/11
comparison made Manila appear culpable
rather than just incompetent.

The Hong Kong government made
much of the inability of Chief Executive
Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to get through to
President Benigno Aquino. But this seems
to have been mainly due to administrative
fumbles on all sides.

All this was in sharp contrast to the lowkey
official responses to past tragedies with
much larger death tolls. How much public
mourning was organised for the 19
unfortunates killed in the 2008 bus crash on
the road to Sai Kung? Where was the official
outrage and calls for travel bans when 14
tourists died in Egypt in 2006? Or for the four
who died in January’s building collapse in
To Kwa Wan, almost certainly caused by
negligence? Or the 41who died in the Garley
building fire of 1996, a consequence in part
of government failure to make businesses
obey fire regulations?

The killing of innocent
tourists by the mad or aggrieved can, and
does, happen anywhere. Two Filipino tourists
were hacked to death in Tiananmen
Square in 2007 by a deranged Chinese. Did
Manila sponsor an outpouring of public
anger or demand that its policemen conduct
their own crime-scene investigation in

A Hong Kong that claims to be “Asia’s
World City” needs to examine its own attitudes
to the peoples of Southeast and South
Asia, from which come our servant population
of 265,000 – 7 per cent of the workforce.

As for Tsang and his team, if they really
cared about Hong Kong peoples’ wellbeing,
they would not be making a lot of
noise about a tragedy that was beyond their
competence and control. They would stop
denying the close connection between the
air pollution and current and future deaths
from pollution-related diseases. They could
easily save 8,000 lives.




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