Beijing best placed to handle rift between Philippines and Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 February, 2014, 4:12am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 February, 2014, 10:07am

The survivors and families of victims of the tourist bus shooting in Manila almost three-and-a-half years ago deserve an apology from the Philippine government. But sanctions are not the way to go about getting it. Our city has limited leverage and Philippine President Benigno Aquino has no political need or will to respond. Beijing, responsible for foreign policy and armed with diplomatic resources and skills, is best suited to gaining the closure that is so sorely needed.

Retaliatory measures imposed by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying against Philippine diplomats and officials take effect today. Diplomatic passport holders will have to submit personal financial information in advance before visiting or transiting Hong Kong. But like the black travel warning, put in place in the wake of the bungled rescue attempt by Philippine National Police of the tourists taken hostage by a dismissed policeman, the sanctions will have limited impact. Just 800 Filipinos are likely to be affected by the visa sanctions each year.

The steps come after the failure of yet another round of talks between Hong Kong and Philippine officials to resolve demands for a top-level apology, compensation, punishment of those responsible and better tourist safety. Leung has promised tougher measures if the sanctions are ineffective. The nature of relations between our city and the Philippines is such, though, that there is little more Leung's government can do. Taking aim at imports, businesspeople or domestic helpers would hurt Hong Kong as well as the Philippines.

Hong Kong has little experience in such matters; these are the first sanctions our city has imposed against a foreign government. The Philippines is no stranger to such actions, though, having in the past been embroiled in diplomatic disputes with mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore and Saudi Arabia, among others. Aquino's office has ruled out tit-for-tat sanctions, but he has shown no signs of acceding to Hong Kong's demands. High approval ratings, strong economic growth data for the Philippines and a solid congressional majority are cause for confidence, not concern.

The shootings took place on Aquino's watch; he should apologise for his officials' incompetence. With his unwillingness to do what is right, efforts for resolution need the help of an entity with diplomatic clout. China has that aplenty through being the Philippines' third-biggest trading partner and a growing source of investment and tourism.