Hong Kong protest hits air­port

An­a­lysts say dis­rup­tions threaten city’s role as busi­ness hub

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - Front Page - KELVIN CHAN AND YANAN WANG

Mass flight can­cel­la­tions at Hong Kong’s air­port dis­rupted one of the world’s busiest air-trans­port hubs on Mon­day, caus­ing chaos for tourists and busi­ness trav­el­ers and play­ing havoc with global air­lines’ flight sched­ules — a fresh es­ca­la­tion of the city’s protest move­ment that threat­ens the Asian city’s busi­ness-friendly im­age.

Thou­sands of sup­port­ers of the largely lead­er­less pro-democ­racy protest move­ment de­scended on the ter­mi­nal in an ef­fort to get the mes­sage out to the world about their strug­gle and the harsh tac­tics used by po­lice. Many wore eye­patches to show their sol­i­dar­ity with a fe­male pro­tester who re­port­edly was hit in the eye by a pro­jec­tile fired by po­lice.

The protests, which have seen both sides adopt in­creas­ingly ex­treme tac­tics, had un­til Mon­day been mostly con­fined to neigh­bor­hoods across the for­mer Bri­tish colony. But the air­port protest, which caused the can­cel­la­tion of more than 150 flights and stranded thou­sands of trav­el­ers, was a rare case of the move­ment hav­ing a di­rect im­pact on busi­ness travel and tourism — main­stays of the Asian busi­ness cen­ter’s econ­omy.

An­a­lysts said it could make for­eign in­vestors think twice about set­ting up shop in Hong Kong, which has long prided it­self as be­ing Asia’s lead­ing busi­ness city with con­ve­nient air links for ex­ec­u­tives trav­el­ing across the re­gion.

“The level of po­lit­i­cal risk as­so­ci­ated with op­er­at­ing in Hong Kong is un­prece­dent­edly high and the sit­u­a­tion isn’t sim­ply a flash in the pan,” said Hugo Bren­nan, prin­ci­pal Asia an­a­lyst at global risk con­sul­tancy Ver­i­tas Maple­croft. “Those in­vestors that haven’t al­ready done so are be­gin­ning to ques­tion the util­ity of be­ing based in the ter­ri­tory. Oth­ers have al­ready be­gun the search for more po­lit­i­cally sta­ble hubs in the Asia-Pa­cific.”

Adding to the protesters’ anger, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pa­cific Air­ways told em­ploy­ees in a memo that the car­rier has a “zero tol­er­ance” for em­ploy­ees join­ing “il­le­gal protests” and warned dis­ci­plinary con­se­quences could in­clude be­ing fired.

A Cathay Pa­cific pi­lot was charged with ri­ot­ing and two ground staff fired for mis­con­duct, the air­line said by email Mon­day. The moves came af­ter the Chi­nese govern­ment warned Cathay Pa­cific, one of Hong Kong’s best-known in­ter­na­tional brands, to bar its staff from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the protests — an es­ca­la­tion into the ter­ri­tory’s busi­ness af­fairs.

Air­line CEO Ru­pert Hogg said in a pre­vi­ous memo Satur­day that Cathay Pa­cific must com­ply with the civil avi­a­tion author­ity’s reg­u­la­tions.

“Though peo­ple may share dif­fer­ent views, it is es­sen­tial that we all re­spect each other, our cus­tomers and mem­bers of the public,” he wrote. “We are aware that this has been, and con­tin­ues to be, a very chal­leng­ing time for many of us who live in Hong Kong and call this in­cred­i­ble city home.”

The air­line is not the only com­pany that has be­come en­tan­gled in Hong Kong’s po­lit­i­cal tumult.

Lux­ury fash­ion brands Givenchy, Ver­sace and Coach have apol­o­gized af­ter Chi­nese so­cial me­dia users lam­basted the com­pa­nies for sell­ing T-shirts which listed Hong Kong, Ma­cao and Tai­wan as their own coun­tries. Of­fi­cially Hong Kong and Ma­cao are clas­si­fied as “spe­cial ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gions” with a greater de­gree of autonomy than main­land Chi­nese prov­inces. Tai­wan, mean­while, split from the main­land dur­ing a civil war in 1949, though the Com­mu­nist Party claims the is­land as part of its ter­ri­tory and main­tains that re­uni­fi­ca­tion is in­evitable.

Coach said in a state­ment Mon­day that “ma­jor mis­takes” were dis­cov­ered in the de­sign of some of its T-shirts.

“We are deeply sorry for the dam­age caused to our

con­sumers’ feel­ings,” Coach said.

Like­wise, Ver­sace said Sun­day that their “in­cor­rect de­sign” linked some cities with in­cor­rect coun­try names. It said the T-shirts with this de­sign were re­moved from all of­fi­cial sales chan­nels and de­stroyed on July 24. “We love China and res­o­lutely re­spect the na­tional sovereignt­y of Chi­nese ter­ri­tory,” the brand said.

CoCo Fresh Tea and Juice, a Tai­wanese bub­ble tea fran­chise, and Pop Mart, a Chi­nese lifestyle brand, both apol­o­gized af­ter in­di­vid­u­als af­fil­i­ated with their com­pa­nies ex­pressed sup­port for Hong Kong protesters.

Hong Kong of­fi­cials warned that Mon­day’s protest risked hurt­ing the city’s rep­u­ta­tion as a travel and trans­port cen­ter.

“There is a se­ri­ous im­pact on the op­er­a­tion of the air­port,” said Hong’ Kong’s sec­ond-high­est rank­ing govern­ment of­fi­cial, Chief Sec­re­tary Matthew Che­ung. “We are an in­ter­na­tional air­port hub and it is also the trunk of Hong Kong’s busi­ness.”

There were al­ready signs busi­ness trav­el­ers were look­ing else­where.

“Some cus­tomers have shown a de­cline in travel book­ings to Hong Kong in June and July, as a num­ber of coun­tries have is­sued safety ad­vi­sories urg­ing trav­el­ers to ex­er­cise cau­tion,” said Julian Walker, a spokesman for travel man­age­ment plat­form CWT, for­merly known as Carl­son Wagonlit.

It was too early to know how Mon­day’s shut­down had af­fected book­ings, he said.

The air­port han­dled 75.3 mil­lion pas­sen­gers in 2018, mak­ing it the world’s sec­ond-busiest in­ter­na­tional air­port af­ter Dubai, ac­cord­ing to pre­lim­i­nary data from Air­ports Coun­cil In­ter­na­tional.

It’s also the world’s busiest air cargo hub, driven partly by de­mand from wealthy coun­tries for Asian ex­ports. More than five mil­lion met­ric tons of air freight passed through the air­port last year, the coun­cil said.

The New York Times/LAM YIK FEI

Thou­sands of peo­ple fill Hong Kong In­ter­na­tional Air­port on Mon­day in a protest against the tac­tics used re­cently by po­lice in their ef­forts to dis­perse pro-democ­racy demon­stra­tions.

AP/KIN CHE­UNG

Stranded trav­el­ers pass the time at the Hong Kong In­ter­na­tional Air­port’s check-in coun­ters on Mon­day.

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