Compensation for Hong Kong's loss in Manila bus tragedy bound to come

Lau Nai-keung says Hong Kong should leave the negotiations to Beijing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 October, 2013, 8:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 4:37pm

Three years after the Manila hostage tragedy, the issue resurfaced when Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying met Philippine President Benigno Aquino at the Apec Summit in Bali. Survivors of the crisis and relatives of the deceased have demanded compensation and an apology from Aquino.

The meeting was perceived here as a humiliation for Leung, who was also reported in the Philippine press as pledging to put the incident behind them. This misreporting was subsequently denied, but it added insult to injury, resulting in a general uproar in the city.

Bearing in mind that China has a lot more chips on the bargaining table than the Philippines, ultimately we will get what we reasonably demand - but not more

Seizing the opportunity, our dissidents proposed all sorts of sanctions against this common enemy, with the side effect of pressuring the central government to get involved.

Things has turned downright ugly, especially given that the Civic Party, which not so long ago vowed to fight for the right of abode for Filipino domestic workers, has now been advocating a general boycott of everything from the Philippines, presumably including its workers.

Yes, the Manila police bungled the hostage rescue operation but - as politically incorrect as it may sound - I don't think the nature and magnitude of this tragedy calls for a presidential apology. Turning down such a demand is an appropriate response. First and foremost, Aquino has to be accountable to his people.

So, an apology from the Manila mayor may be acceptable but what good is it when it comes three years too late? Compensation is another matter; this is a lot more substantial than just words.

During any negotiation, it's advisable not to make threats if you do not seriously intend to follow through. Any economic boycott by a small market of seven million people is not going to be very effective. But what would happen to our proud tradition of being a free port?

And don't expect the central government to be drawn in by our irrational moves. Diplomacy is never conducted this way; otherwise, we would have had many more wars instead of just war cries.

In fact, what is the point of punishing the innocent banana farmers and domestic helpers just to extort an apology from their political leader? Just to show the world that we Hong Kong citizens can be uncivilised and unreasonable?

International relations, by their very nature, take place between nations. Hong Kong, as a special administrative region of China, has not been empowered in this area. Article 13 of our Basic Law says so. Like it or not, in the final analysis, this is an issue between China and the Philippines, not between Hong Kong and the Philippines, not even between Hong Kong and Manila.

Now that Premier Li Keqiang has taken this matter up with Aquino, using very strong words, Hong Kong has to step back and play a supporting role. In the big picture, there are a number of issues to be resolved between these two countries; the hostage incident is just one of them, and definitely not the most urgent or the most strategic.

Those who advocate nativism may not like it, but it's a fact that you win some and lose some. We will have to learn to live with that.

China has a tradition of resolving international disputes through negotiations. Bearing in mind that China has a lot more chips on the bargaining table than the Philippines, ultimately we will get what we reasonably demand - but not more; China abhors hegemony and we don't want to end up being a bully like our dissidents.

We also shouldn't underestimate Aquino. He knows his country has sold a lot less bananas to China in the past three years and it is beginning to hurt. We should just be patient; compensation will come sooner than many people expect.

Lau Nai-keung is a member of the Basic Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee, and also a member of the Commission on Strategic Development