Hong Kong: China bans Cathay Pacific staff involved in Hong Kong ‘unlawful’ protests from mainland routes

, by LEE Danny, LEUNG Kanis , MA Josephine, ZANG Karen

Civil aviation authorities say ban comes into effect from Saturday
Airline says it is studying the directive carefully and passenger safety is its top priority.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China has told Hong Kong’s flagship carrier that from Saturday, staff who took part in “illegal protests”, “violent actions” and “overly radical activities” in the city would not be able to fly to or from the mainland. Photo: EPA-EFE

Beijing has ordered Cathay Pacific to stop aircrew who joined or supported illegal anti-government protests in Hong Kong from operating flights to mainland China or using Chinese airspace, firing its first warning shot at the city’s corporate giants.

 Statement from the Civil Aviation Administration of China

In a statement issued on Friday 9 night, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) told Hong Kong’s flagship carrier that from Saturday, staff who had taken part in “illegal protests”, “violent actions” and “overly radical activities” in the city would not be allowed to fly to or from the mainland.

The regulator also made it clear that from Sunday the airline would have to submit identification details of all aircrew operating all services using mainland airspace.

Flights that did not have CAAC-approved crew lists would not be allowed to use Chinese airspace, it said.

 A clear warning to Hong Kong’s business community

The move was widely seen as a clear warning to Hong Kong’s business community to toe the line regarding support for mass rallies that have descended into violent clashes between protesters and police.
It followed a stark warning this week from Beijing that it would not stand idly by and allow the crisis to spiral out of control.
Expect increased checks in mainland China, Cathay tells staff

Tian Feilong, a researcher at the Beijing-backed Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said the move was meant to force Hong Kong businesses to take sides.
“The city is unlikely to restore order without coordination between the government and business elites,” Tian said. “The ban is a warning to the business community that condoning or remaining silent about the violence is seen by Beijing as helping to fuel the behaviour.”

Professor Lau Siu-kai, a vice-chairman at the same institute, saw it as a signal that Beijing was now dipping into its arsenal of options to combat the protest movement, which it considers an challenge to national sovereignty.
“I predict this kind of major move will be rolled out one after another … If your company allows many employees to harm national security, the central government will not just look on and do nothing,” Lau said.

 The CAAC also told Cathay

The CAAC also told Cathay to come up with detailed plans by next Thursday on how it would step up internal safety controls and improve security, the statement said.
“The CAAC has 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.”

A Cathay pilot was among dozens of people charged during police crackdowns on extradition bill protests in recent weeks.
Cathay said earlier that it would not stop staff from taking part in demonstrations – many of them joined or supported a citywide strike called by protesters on Monday that caused major flight disruptions.

In its statement, the CAAC was also referring to news this week 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.
“We are aware of the inappropriate behaviour of an employee involving the misuse of company information during work hours,” a Cathay spokeswoman said. “While no passenger names or personal details were shared, it was entirely inappropriate and we would like to express our sincere apologies.”
First wave of alleged Hong Kong rioters released on bail, with most handed curfew

 Boycotting Cathay ?

The backlash on the mainland has seen many take to the internet to discuss boycotting Cathay.
At least 300 staff from a subsidiary of China Huarong Asset Management, one of the largest asset management companies in China, received notice to boycott Cathay, the South China Morning Post has learned.

In response to the CAAC’s warning, Cathay Pacific said it was studying the directive carefully.
“We are treating it seriously and are following up accordingly,” a spokesman for the airline said.
“The safety of our passengers is always the top priority of Cathay Pacific. There is zero tolerance for any inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour that may affect aviation safety. We deal with these incidents very seriously.”
More chaos looms for weekend in Hong Kong despite police bans on four protests

 About CAAC statement

- Law Cheung-kwok, an aviation policy expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Beijing’s move was severe enough to affect Hong Kong’s image.
“I think it is a drastic measure but I understand perfectly the Chinese authorities’ concern for security and safety,” Law said. “This will definitely affect Cathay’s business and the image of Hong Kong as an aviation hub as a whole.”

- Some Cathay staff, asking to remain anonymous, complained of “white terror” tactics by Beijing.
“I think the statement is spreading a giant white terror,” a flight attendant said.
“If someone has liked or left a comment on a Facebook post related to the protests, does it mean the person is a supporter?”

- Lawyer Kevin Yam Kin-fung agreed, saying: “Apart from one pilot who has been charged, but innocent until proven guilty, how is Cathay going to be able to work out who did or did not attend an unlawful protest and who did or did not commit violence?”

- Opposition lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho was concerned about wider intimidation of the business sector.
“This is white terror spreading in Hong Kong. If the Chinese government can do this to a passenger carrier, then they can do the same to any industry operating on the mainland, be it retail or banking,” Tam said.
“Punishing Cathay employees for making a political statement or taking part in protests on their own time is forcibly implementing the social credit system on Hong Kong people. This is at odds with the rule of law in Hong Kong, which assumes an individual is innocent until proven otherwise.”

- Pro-establishment business leader and Lan Kwai Fong Group chairman Allan Zeman said Beijing was sending a message to the commercial community that companies and staff were expected to conduct themselves in an “orderly fashion” if they wanted to do business on the mainland.
“If [staff] really are involved in violence and involved in shaming the Chinese population, especially with the symbol and the flag, then for sure, I think China will crack down,” he said.

- Liberal Party leader Felix Chung Kwok-pan said similar measures would be difficult to implement across Hong Kong’s business sector, as there were up to 400,000 firms in the city.
“But launching such a move also makes people worry. This greatly affects the business environment,” he said.

- Albert Lam Kwong-yu, former civil aviation chief for Hong Kong from 1998-2004, said he was not against suspending the Cathay pilot in question from duty.
“His attitude and temperament is not suitable for flying,” Lam said, adding that Cathay had no option but to comply with the demands of the CAAC.
“If Cathay doesn’t comply, the regulator will have something else up its sleeve. As to what it is, it’s hard to guess. The first thing is to comply.”

Apart from the more than two dozen China routes operated by Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon and HK Express, the airline group also relies heavily on flying through Chinese airspace for most of its European and North American flights, which form the bulk of its long-haul operations.

Josephine Ma, Danny Lee, Karen Zhang, Kanis Leung

Additional reporting by Xie Yu, Jun Mai and Zoe Low