Minister Chan Chun Sing’s remarks about Hong Kong’s reaction to the Covid-19 virus is mean and ignores the vulnerable social situation in Hong Kong that was present even before the outbreak, says Alice Wu.
In an opinion piece on South China Morning Post on Monday (24 February), the political consultant slammed Mr Chan’s remarks for lacking empathy, adding that it is “not exactly honourable behaviour”.
“It’s shameful, actually, coming from a leader and it reflects badly on him, as well as the country he represents,” Ms Wu said.
She is referring to remarks by Mr Chan in a leaked 25-minute audio recording in which he called Hong Kongers’ “idiots” for their behaviour of panic buying and hoarding in the face of the outbreak. Mr Chan was speaking in a closed-door dialogue with members of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
His comments drew the ire of Hong Kong netizens who felt that Mr Chan’s remarks were not appropriate and signalled his lack of understanding about the situation in Hong Kong.
Ms Wu explained that she understands the anger at Mr Chan, acknowledging that his comments were “mean” as it ignores the fact that Hong Kong “appears to be down and out”.
She went on to say, “Granted, we’re lying on the ground because we tripped over ourselves, but mocking Hong Kong’s misfortunes – getting a laugh at the expense of people caught in their most vulnerable moments – still smacks of Schadenfreude and a complete lack of empathy.”
Noting that Hong Kong is currently suffering a “total breakdown of trust in all levels”, Ms Wu explains that the city’s social fabric has been torn apart and many have yet to recover from the brutality they’ve witnessed on the streets after many months of protests. Therefore, it is expected that the public would panic about a disease for which there is yet no cure, said Ms Wu.
Singapore and Hong Kong are not all that different
Ms Wu pointed out that Singapore and Hong Kong are often compared, especially on economic achievements, though Hong Kongers are now “bitterly aware” of how different the two cities are.
In this case, she referred to Hong Kongers queuing overnight to get face masks and rushing to stores in panic to stockpile essential items in fear that the virus would disrupt supply lines coming in from China.
In Singapore, citizens who were following Hong Kong’s example also resorted to panic buying and hoarding essential items – whereby Mr Chan described them as “idiots”.
However, the Singapore government responded to the panic by distributing four masks per household to all 1.3 million households in Singapore as a way to calm nerves. Hong Kongers had no such luxury. In the leaked audio, Mr Chan said that the decision to distribute those masks was not an easy one to make and that it was a “gamble”.
Mr Chan explained that the Singapore government was in a tough spot because it had to balance conserving mask stocks to ensure health care workers have adequate supply while battling the perception that it did not care about its citizens.
Commenting on that, Ms Wu said in her article, “Evidently, masks do not just offer protection against Covid-19 to ordinary people, they also protect a government against widespread public resentment.”
Pride comes before a fall
Ms Wu then suggested, “The question he [Mr Chan] should perhaps ask is why, in the absence of any social or political crisis, some Singaporeans were also “behaving like idiots” and hoarding toilet paper, for example.”
Ms Wu quoted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s response to the situation in Hong Kong when he asked his citizens to consider some difficult questions such as whether such deep socials angst can happen in Singapore.
PM Lee had said, “Can this social division befall us? And my answer is, yes it can if we are not careful. If it happens to us, like what’s happening elsewhere, we will suffer the same consequences as the other countries, only worse because we are that much more vulnerable.”
Following that, Ms Wu said she hopes Mr Chan “will notice that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s pride came before her fall”.