The Hong Kong International Airport reopened Tuesday, a day after thousands of pro-democracy protesters crowded its main terminal. One of the world’s busiest, the airport had cancelled all flights Monday after accusing the protesters of having “seriously disrupted” operations. The protests, however, were peaceful in nature.
Flight movements are likely to be affected Tuesday. “Hong Kong International Airport will implement flight rescheduling today with flight movements expected to be affected,” said a notice published on the Hong Kong International Airport’s official mobile app on Tuesday.
Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific said it had cancelled over 200 flights to and from the airport on Tuesday, and would operate only a limited number of flights for connecting passengers. Airport flight boards showed the likes of Emirates Airline and Virgin Australia had flights scheduled to depart on Tuesday, reported news agency Reuters.
Hong Kong is the eighth busiest by passenger traffic, handling 73 million passengers a year. A Reuters reporter saw more than 100 travellers queuing up at Cathay’s ticketing counter early on Tuesday.
“The way to handle last night was chaotic,” said Kate Flannery from Australia, who was travelling to Paris, was quoted by saying by Reuters. “The airport authority didn’t deal with the situation. I felt like I was walking around and nobody gave us information.”
A Cathay customer officer at the airport, who declined to provide his name, said that nearly all of the airline’s flights were full. “It is possible that the airport authority will cancel more flights as they need to control the air traffic movements at the Hong Kong International Airport,” he said.
Cathay Pacific, one of Asia’s largest international carriers, has blamed Hong Kong’s recent turmoil for a drop in bookings. This, after the Chinese government forced the company to bar staffers who support or participate in the territory’s protests from doing any work involving flights to mainland China. It ordered the airline to begin submitting information about all crew members flying to — or above — the mainland to the Chinese authorities for prior approval, reported The New York Times.
The controversy now threatens to test the company’s commitments to its employees against its own viability, which depends significantly on its ability to fly through mainland Chinese airspace.
China on Hong Kong protests
On Monday, China said the protests. which started in opposition to a now suspended extradition bill to mainland China but expanded into wider calls for democracy, had reached a “critical juncture”. It added that the protests had begun to show “sprouts of terrorism”.
“Protesters have been frequently using extremely dangerous tools to attack the police in recent days, constituting serious crimes with sprouts of terrorism emerging,” said Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office spokesman Yang Guang in Beijing.
Behind the Hong Kong protests
Protesters are demanding the resignation of the Chinese territory’s leader, Carrie Lam, democratic elections for her successor, the release of those arrested in earlier protests and an investigation into police use of force. Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement enshrining some autonomy for Hong Kong when China took it back from Britain in 1997.
A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 under the principle of “one country, two systems,” which promises the city certain democratic rights not afforded to people on the mainland. But in recent years, some have accused the Communist Party-ruled central government of steadily chipping away at their freedoms.
Some Hong Kong legal experts say the official description of terrorism could lead to the use of anti-terror laws. Protesters say police have used excessive force, firing tear gas and bean bag pellets at close range, and are calling for an independent inquiry into the crisis. The increasingly violent demonstrations have plunged the Chinese-ruled territory into its most serious crisis in decades, presenting Chinese leader Xi Jinping with one of his biggest challenges since he came to power in 2012.
(With inputs from agencies)