Cathay CEO resigns amid Hong Kong protest blowback

Cathay CEO resigns amid Hong Kong protest blowback

Reuters August 16, 2019
Cathay CEO resigns amid Hong Kong protest blowback . PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG: The boss of Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific Airways quit on Friday, the highest-profile corporate casualty of unrest roiling the former British colony, after Beijing targeted the airline over staff involvement in mass protests.

The corporate upheaval comes ahead of a weekend where further protests are planned, including what could be a large gathering on Sunday that could test whether a movement that has enjoyed broad support can retain it, even as violence escalates.

Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the "one country, two systems" arrangement that enshrined some autonomy for Hong Kong since China took it back from Britain in 1997.

Police have granted permission for a rally called "Stand with Hong Kong, Power to the People" planned in the central business district on Friday night. But they have banned other protests planned for the weekend.

Cathay Pacific, an emblem of the city, was blindsided last week when China's aviation regulator demanded it suspend staff supporting a movement that has mushroomed from opposition to a legal change in Hong Kong into wider calls for democracy. The abrupt departure of Chief Executive Rupert Hogg, a move the company said was "to take responsibility ... in view of recent events," shows just how much pressure Beijing is piling on corporate giants and the city as it seeks to snuff out the protests.

Cathay became embroiled in the confrontation after one of its pilots was arrested at a demonstration in July. China's aviation regulator demanded any staff involved or supportive of the protests be removed from duty on flights to or over mainland airspace.

Cathay shares hit a 10-year low. The company, whose chairman had initially said, before the demand, that it "wouldn't dream" of telling staff what to think, later acceded to the request, firing two pilots and saying "overly radical" staff would be suspended from mainland duties. Hogg said these had been "challenging weeks" for the airline and it was right for him, and the company's chief customer officer who also abruptly quit, to take responsibility.


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