Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific has capitulated to China’s demands that it suspend any staff supporting pro-democracy protests in the territory, suspending a pilot and two ground staff.
On Friday the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) China’s aviation regulator on Friday ordered the airline to hand over identifying information for staff on mainland-bound flights starting Sunday.
It warned that staff who “support or take part in illegal protests, violent actions, or overtly radical behaviour” were banned from flights landing in mainland China or travelling through its airspace, labelling it a “flight safety and security” issue.
Cathay was also given a deadline of 15 August by the CAAC, to submit a report on planned measures to “strengthen internal control and improve flight safety and security”.
In its statement, the CAAC says it issued “a severe aviation risk warning after numerous recent incidents exposed safety risks by Hong Kong Cathay Pacific.
“Recently, a Cathay Pacific pilot involved in violent activities was charged with rioting, but the person was not suspended from flight duties. There was also leakage of passenger information with malicious intent. These have had an adverse social impact and increased the possibility of aviation risks spreading from Hong Kong to the mainland,” the CAAC says.
The CAAC was also referring to reports that Cathay staff had leaked to a social media group the flight schedule of the Hong Kong police soccer team, which was to play a game on the mainland.
On 7 August Cathay Pacific chairman John Slosar said the company could not dictate the political activities of its employees, explaining: “We employ 27,000 staff in Hong Kong doing all sorts of different jobs… we certainly wouldn’t dream of telling them what they have to think.”
Some analysts contend this statement backfired, suggesting Slosar’s comments may have prompted Beijing to come up with a way to punish the airline via its aviation authority.
China is also ratcheting up the punitive pressure on Cathay, with after China’s state-run press fuelled a #BoycottCathayPacific hashtag, which trended on Chinese social media attracting more than 17 million views and 8,000 comments as of Saturday.
“Cathay Pacific Group’s operations in mainland China are key to our business. In addition to flying in and out of mainland China, a large number of our routes both to Europe and to the USA also fly through mainland China airspace,” its chief executive, Rupert Hogg, says.
Meanwhile protests continued at various locations around Hong Kong on the weekend, Clashes with police were particularly intense on Sunday night compared with previous days, as riot police fired teargas into a mass rapid rail station to disperse crowds and were captured on film beating protesters with batons as they fled down an escalator in another station.
A three-day sit in at Hong Kong International Airport took place peacefully with protestors handing out leaflets to arriving tourists, explaining the recent protests.