Hong Kong and the Philippine authorities have finally agreed to begin official talks over the Manila bus hostage crisis that left eight Hongkongers dead more than three years ago.
But neither Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying nor victims' families expect an early resolution while Philippine President Benigno Aquino has insisted that he will make no apology, saying the lone gunman was to blame.
"We're taking a small step in the right direction," Leung said in Bali during the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit. "[But] I don't think anyone should overpromise the results of further dialogue between Hong Kong and the Philippines."
He said Aquino had agreed to his suggestion that ministerial meetings should take place "as soon as possible" to discuss how to follow up on the matter.
"The Philippine side, in the beginning, took the position that the matter has been resolved. I did not agree. I believe, and I made the case to the Philippine side, that this matter, unless it is resolved properly, will continue to stand in the way of the normal relationships between Hong Kong and the Philippines," Leung said.
At a 40-minute meeting on Monday night, attended by two senior Hong Kong officials and seven Philippine officials and ministers, Aquino reiterated, according to Philippine media, that his government had the "deepest regret" for the victims, but stressed that it did not mean that "we are at fault as a country, as a government, as a people".
Leung was quoted as citing the government response to last year's Lamma ferry disaster as an illustration that Hong Kong officials would apologise for tragedies for which they were not directly responsible.
"That's your culture," Aquino was reported as replying. "But in our system … we cannot admit wrongdoing if it's not ours. From our perspective, there is one lone gunman responsible for this tragedy."
However, Aquino agreed to send Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to brief victims' families on the Philippine judicial processes and status of cases.
The Hong Kong government did not announce the meeting had taken place until Philippine media uploaded video clips. The Hong Kong side took no photos or videos at the meeting.
Tse Chi-kin, whose younger brother Masa Tse Ting-chunn was killed, said it was "unacceptable" that Aquino put all the blame on the gunman and that he had lost faith in whatever promises the Philippine government might make.
"We met with the Philippine secretary of justice on the first anniversary of the incident in Manila but we have heard nothing ever since and the promises made are yet to be honoured," Tse said.
He urged the Hong Kong government to follow up closely on any future promises the Philippine side made as they tend to "say one thing and do another".
Legislator James To Kun-sun urged the central government to take sterner measures in its engagement with Manila to ensure Hongkongers' safety abroad.