Rupert Hogg, chief executive officer of Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific, announced his resignation on Friday along with chief customer and commercial officer Paul Loo.
The two executives said they were resigning to “take responsibility” for events that occurred during the past few “challenging weeks for the airline.” In other words, the Chinese Communist Party is furious at Cathay Pacific because too many of its employees support the Hong Kong protest movement.
Cathay issued a statement praising Hogg for his work over the past three years but said, “Recent events have called into question Cathay Pacific’s commitment to flight safety and security and put our reputation and brand under pressure.”
“We therefore think it is time to put a new management team in place who can reset confidence and lead the airline to new heights. Cathay Pacific is fully committed to Hong Kong under the principle of ‘One Country Two Systems’ as enshrined in the Basic Law. We are confident that Hong Kong will have a great future,” the airline said.
The South China Morning Post described the top-level resignations as “shocking,” given that Cathay Pacific has begun terminating pilots and airport employees who got involved in protests at Hong Kong’s international airport. One of the employees terminated by Cathay was accused of misusing company data by posting the travel details of Hong Kong police officers on social media for the benefit of protest organizers.
The firings were clearly an attempt to appease the Chinese communist regime after its Civil Aviation Administration (CAAC) banned Cathay Pacific staffers who supported the protests from entering Chinese airspace, a ban that could virtually shut down Cathay’s operations if enforced vigorously enough, since routes from Hong Kong to many other Asian destinations and Europe pass through China. After announcing the ban, CAAC began instructing Cathay to provide dossiers on all of its air crews so the Communist agency could decide whether their presence in the skies of China was acceptable.
A growing number of Chinese state-owned companies are instructing their employees to avoid using Cathay for business travel. China’s state-run media created and heavily promoted a #BoycottCathayPacific hashtag for social media. Cathay share prices slumped to ten-year lows under pressure from Beijing, but began to rally after the company and its top shareholder, Swire Pacific Ltd, condemned the protests and promised to obey CAAC’s directives.
Hogg’s resignation letter described the Chinese market as “all-important.” On Monday, he sent a letter to all employees warning them of “disciplinary consequences” for participating in “illegal protests,” but this evidently wasn’t good enough for Beijing.
The SCMP pointedly noted that Hogg’s replacement, Augustus Tang Kin-wing, is a Chinese national, unlike the British-born Hogg. Cathay Pacific has never before had two Chinese citizens as its top executives. The Chinese Communist Party has never been happy about Hong Kong’s flagship airline, and one of the top travel providers in all of Asia, having so many ties to the former colonial power of Britain.
The New York Times saw Hogg’s ouster as part of China’s aggressive campaign to force Hong Kong businesses and tycoons to bend their knees to Beijing, saying:
Big businesses have scrambled to reassure the Chinese government that they condemn the protests and support Hong Kong’s Beijing-appointed leaders. Jardine Matheson, the Hong Kong-based conglomerate, said on Thursday that it “strongly supported” the local government, and said that recent violence had “seriously threatened the well-being of our community.”
On Friday, Hong Kong’s richest man, the property tycoon Li Ka-shing, bought cryptic full-page ads in several local newspapers, calling in literary language for an end to the unrest.
Cathay Pacific issued a statement on Wednesday declaring its “firm support” for the government of Hong Kong, its police force, and Chief Executive Carrie Lam.