Philippines Hostage Standoff: Toning Down the Rhetoric

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You’ve probably seen the news on this nasty hostage incident by now:

In the face of growing Chinese anger, Philippine officials acknowledged failings in how the police handled a 12-hour hostage standoff on a tourist bus, which unfolded on live television and ended with the deaths of eight passengers from Hong Kong and the armed captor, a former police officer. (NYT)

Image credit: AFP

There are several things swirling around out there about this incident. First, you’ve got family and friends of the victims who are grieving. To the extent possible with this sort of very public crime, it would make sense to leave them alone and let them get on with what they need to do.

Second, there are zillions of folks in Hong Kong and the Mainland who are ”angered” or ”outraged” or whatever other sort of word you want to use to characterize the emotion being expressed on microblogs and BBS sites everywhere.

Third, there is the bilateral dialogue going on between China/Hong Kong SAR and the Philippines. A lot of coordination needs to happen when foreign nationals are killed overseas, so this is certainly understandable as well.

As usual, though, folks are taking this a bit too far. Sure, emotions are running high, and this sort of thing tends to bring out he inner nationalist in a lot of people. More’s the pity. A tragic event takes place, and certain individuals take that as some sort of an affront to them, their country, their race.

As usual with this blog, I run the risk in writing this post of coming off as an insufferable, insensitive prick. Not my intention. The basic message I’m trying to convey here is not that folks should not be upset, but that ultimately our response needs to be reasonable. This was, after all, a criminal act perpetrated by a nutjob, and the response was bungled by the cops.

For some reason, though, some people want to turn this into more than it was. Look at this Global Times article, “Chinese Demand Answers in Killing.” Really? Perhaps the Hong Kong government, or the families involved, but ”The Chinese?” Isn’t that taking things a bit too far?

A wave of mourning and anger washed across China Tuesday over Monday’s cold-blooded killings of Hong Kong tourists in the Philippine capital and from what many people are calling incompetence by police in handling a volatile hostage situation.

I think everyone agrees that this was indeed incompetence on behalf of the police, and the way the media acted over there is contemptible. However, the imagery of “A wave of mourning and anger” washing across the entire country seems like going over the top. I’ve already seen some BBS posts that imply that the reason the police screwed the pooch was not incompetence, but indifference, due to the fact that the passengers were Chinese.

Additionally, I always wonder why these types of incidents, which obviously require dialogue between the two countries, end up in the press with one nation pitted against the other. Why do Netizens commonly look for ”bilateral tension” and a worsening of the relationship? Why do we get this sort of nonsense from the Global Times (this one is at least an Op/Ed, not news)?

In order to make sure the hostages were safe and not to cause diplomatic disputes, the authorities could have easily accepted the gunman’s request, or at least given him some promise to calm him down.

Second-guessing the police decisions? Sure, go for it. But assuming that when an incident like this goes bad, there is automatically a diplomatic incident? Why?

Does it make us feel better to blame an entire government when a criminal act is bungled by police officers? Must we second-guess police funding decisions, anti-terror campaigns, even Philippine foreign policy in order to assess sufficient blame?

Here’s more from the Associated Press:

There was anger in Hong Kong. At the Philippine Consulate, several dozen protesters chanted: “Strongly condemn the Philippine government for being careless about human life!”

Many Hong Kong newspapers printed mastheads in black out of respect for the victims, and flags in the territory flew at half-staff.

“Filipino police incompetent,” Hong Kong’s Ming Pao Daily News said in a front-page headline.

The South China Morning Post called the killings “a wake-up call” for the Philippines to boost security and take gun-control measures.

Protesting at a foreign consulate due to the incompetent actions of some police officers? Maybe I’m just being an insensitive asshole, but that seems way out of proportion. Aquino did not order a military strike against that bus.

And does that SCMP advice make sense? The Philippines had 138 of these hostage situations last year, and 56 so far this year. I don’t think they need a wake-up call, just better government policy and competent police. Despite the fact that foreign nationals were killed, aren’t these questions a matter of domestic policy?

Let’s hope that this does not devolve into the usual chest thumping and boycotts.

UPDATE: This doesn’t look promising. From Bloomberg:

The Philippines appealed to Hong Kong people to refrain from taking out anger against Filipinos following the deaths of eight of the city’s residents in a tour bus hijacking in Manila.

The Philippine government recognizes the “backlash” caused by the deadly siege and is “doing everything” it can to contain it, Edwin Lacierda, a spokesman for President Benigno Aquino, said today.

2 responses on “Philippines Hostage Standoff: Toning Down the Rhetoric

  1. tc

    I agree with you 100%. We should not blame the whole country because of the police mishandling a hostage situation.

    This reminds me whenever there are defective Chinese products, they are called “China” whatever.
    Like the headline says “Chinese drywall problem …”, “China milk scandal…”. It sounds like President Hu Jin-Tao is at fault, and the whole Chinese nation should be responsible. Not the individual company.

    But, when Toyota had defective automobiles I have never heard “Japan car problem”. I just cannot figure out why. Could it be because Japan is a US client state, and China is not ? I am dumb. Please enlighten me, Mr. Abrams.

    1. Stan Post author

      You’re right about the drywall problem (same with toys, toothpaste, pet food, etc.). The U.S. media always labeled it a “China scandal” unfairly. They also aren’t so good about naming the distributors involved or the companies that originally ordered the products to certain specifications. The only company I recall being named was Mattel.

      I think that happens more frequently when the companies involved are not famous. With Toyota, for example, you had only one company that everyone already knew, so it was easy to label it a “Toyota” problem. If you have several no-name companies from a country, then it’s easier (i.e. lazy) to just label it a problem of the originating country.

      The milk scandal is a bit different since it took place here, so “China problem” in that sense means it happened in China.

      Very good point you make, though. I agree.