Hong Kong schemes to punish Haiyan victim Philippines

Published on : Saturday, November 16, 2013

As Typhoon Haiyan wreaked destruction on the Philippines last Thursday, causing thousands of casualties, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council sat in its comfortable, air-conditioned chamber and debated how to cut the island nation to size.

The apparent reason for Hong Kong’s wrath was the death of eight Hong Kong citizens during a bungled 2010 hostage rescue in Manila. Hapless Filipino police admittedly bungled the situation, in which a disgruntled former cop boarded a tour bus carrying an assault rifle. Hong Kong Chief Executive C.Y. Leung wants a personal apology from Philippine President Benigno Aquino, as well as higher compensation for families of the victims than the Philippines would normally pay to its own citizens.

Hong Kong wants an answer within one-month. Legislators were debating sanctions that would include ending visa-free visits by Filipinos and slowing the flow of Philippine migrant workers to the city.

The tone-deafness of the debate was stunning. Even on Monday, as many lawmakers suggested delaying the sanctions, Hong Kong Chief Executive C.Y. Leung stressed that Aquino hadn’t asked for any such extension. If Leung had turned on his TV, he might have realized the Philippine president has been a little busy.

The sanctions are farcical on several levels: the idea that Leung, a pawn of Beijing, is the equal of the president of large sovereign state; the assumption that a national leader should be held responsible for the incompetence of a local police squad; the racist suggestion that a Hong Kong tourist is worth more than a Filipino.

Leung doesn’t seem to understand that he needs Filipinos more that than they need his city. His economy rests on three pillars: overvalued real estate, overpaid bankers and exploited migrant workers — many of them women from the Philippines. Removing the third pillar to score a cheap political point undermines the second one and thus complicates the first.
The 160,000-strong Filipinos Leung would punish are in some ways the glue holding Hong Kong’s business culture together. They are the maids, cooks and nannies who enable everyone from middle-class families to hedge fund managers to balance life and work. Remove them from the equation and the Hong Kong lifestyle as everyone knows it ends.
If Hong Kong yanks away the welcome mat, its Filipino workforce can always head to Singapore, Taiwan or the West. Meanwhile, the sanctions would also damage a fast-growing tourism business with the Philippines, hurting local entrepreneurs.

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