My Take

Hong Kong must stand up to Egypt over probe into balloon crash

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 March, 2013, 3:48am

Nine Hong Kong citizens died needlessly in the Luxor balloon crash, but Egyptian authorities say they don't need any foreign representative involved in their probe. This is worse than a snub; it's a blatant violation of international protocol and a lack of plain human decency.

The Hong Kong government is at fault too for not pressing its case harder or early enough. But the greater blame must lie with the Egyptian government.

It initially appeared to agree to Hong Kong's sending an aviation expert to play an advisory role. But it has now backtracked, saying that, since the investigation has started, there is no need to involve foreign representatives. Instead, it will brief Hong Kong on its progress. That's diplomat-speak for telling us to get lost. Anyway, their explanation doesn't even make sense.

What's so difficult about getting foreign experts involved? So what if the probe has started? What do the authorities in Egypt have to hide? Are they trying to whitewash an accident that killed 19 foreign tourists from countries such as Japan, Britain and France?

According to International Civil Aviation Organisation standards, "if the accident involves fatalities and injuries of citizens of other states or places, such state or place shall be entitled to appoint a representative to take part in the investigation".

The Hong Kong government is taking it on the chin and appears unwilling to press its case. But this is a perfect opportunity for our chief executive to show how tough he can be in standing up for Hong Kong's people. Hey, we are not dealing with Beijing, but Cairo.

We can afford to be assertive, even aggressive in our demand. Egypt wants our tourism business; it also needs Beijing's diplomatic support and foreign aid. We are not completely without leverage over Egypt. Leung Chun-ying should call in the consul-general and demand an explanation, or better, insist on Hong Kong's right to take part in the probe under international protocols.

If Egyptian authorities think they can restore tourism as if nothing had happened, they are sorely mistaken.

The only way they can regain trust and confidence from foreign tourists and governments is to be completely open and transparent about the investigation.