Harness the feelings of solidarity

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 January, 2005, 12:00am

If the tsunami disaster has a positive side, it is that the sheer scale of it has shocked people around the world into facing their own mortality and acknowledging just how puny we are, compared with the forces of nature.

In Hong Kong, it has also put into perspective the pettiness of our disputes compared with the issues of life and death that now confront so many countries and people. They are faced with the task of locating and identifying bodies before either burying or cremating them. Add to that the issues related to feeding and caring for the millions now rendered homeless, providing them with potable water and preventing the spread of infectious diseases, and one can see the magnitude of the task.

Then there is the need to rebuild infrastructure, including homes and hotels and, in many cases, the difficult task of luring back tourists who have been scared away. All in all, the countries of South and Southeast Asia face a formidable task in the coming months and years.

Hong Kong people have once again shown that they can rise to the occasion, with thousands of people showing a nobility of spirit as they dedicate themselves to the task of raising funds for the victims. Even though some Hong Kong people have also been killed, with many still missing, the generosity of spirit manifested here was sparked not by local victims but by compassion for the dead, the injured and the newly destitute throughout the region.

It is good to see political opponents put aside their differences to work together. The pooling of efforts by the Democratic Party, The Frontier and the Liberals to work for a common goal is one such example. And many legislators and other prominent members of society have given unstintingly of their time and effort.

The government, too, has done its share. It cancelled the New Year fireworks as a mark of respect and to show solidarity with the rest of the region. The fund-raising concert it organised on Sunday in Hong Kong Stadium, attended by 13,000 people, raised $33 million.

But the government could and should have made greater use of this occasion to heal Hong Kong's wounds. The concert, attended by Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, members of his cabinet and other dignitaries, provided an ideal opportunity. If the administration had invited leaders of all groups across the political spectrum, as well as other community leaders, to take part, it would have demonstrated the oneness of purpose of all Hong Kong people at this time.

Mr Tung could have harvested even more in terms of harmony and goodwill, sorely missing in our community in the past few years. It is not often that virtually the whole community feels the same way about something. One such moment occurred 15 years ago, in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. At the time, the community was united in sympathy and support for those who were killed in Beijing. The sense of solidarity within Hong Kong was palpable.

Now, there is another such moment and, this time, Beijing is not the cause. At moments like this, rich and poor, liberal and conservative, pro-democracy as well as pro-China people, all share the same sentiments and the same goals. An attempt should be made to harness this force and instil in us the sense that there is more that we as a community share in common than there is that divides us. No doubt, in time, the feeling of solidarity will fade, but if the government can take steps to harness this sense of oneness, it could result in a community that is more prone to harmony than to confrontation.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator