The chief executive of Cathay Pacific Airways, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent companies, resigned Friday following pressure by Beijing on the carrier over participation by some of its employees in anti-government protests.
Rupert Hogg became the highest-profile corporate casualty of official Chinese pressure on foreign and Hong Kong companies to support the ruling Communist Party’s position against the protesters.
Beijing jolted companies last week when it warned that Cathay Pacific employees who “support or take part in illegal protests” would be barred from flying to or over the mainland. Cathay Pacific said a pilot who was charged with rioting was removed from flying duties.
Hong Kong is in its third month of protests that started in opposition to a proposed extradition law but have expanded to include demands for a more democratic system.
Cathay Pacific needs new management to “reset confidence” because its commitment to safety and security were “called into question,” the company chairman, John Slosar, said in a statement.
Hogg resigned “to take responsibility as a leader of the company in view of recent events,” the statement said.
Cathay Pacific serves more than 200 destinations in Asia, Europe and the Americas. It has 33,000 employees.
Its parent, Cathay Pacific Group, also owns Cathay Dragon, Air Hong Kong and HK Express.
Slosar said last week that Cathay Pacific didn’t tell its employees what to think, but that position shifted after China’s warning.
On Monday, Hogg threatened employees with penalties, including the possibility of being fired, if they took part in “illegal protests.”
Hong Kong was promised a “high degree of autonomy” — a system dubbed “one country, two systems” by Beijing — when the former British colony returned to China in 1997.
Government critics say that system is being eroded by Hong Kong leaders and the Communist Party.
“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,” Slosar said in the statement.
Other companies also have been caught up in nationalist passions.
Fashion brands Givenchy, Versace and Coach apologized after Chinese social media users criticized them for selling T-shirts that showed Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as separate countries.
Macau, like Hong Kong, is a semiautonomous Chinese territory. Taiwan split with the mainland in a civil war in 1949, but Beijing claims the island as its territory and is pressuring companies to say it is part of China.
Last year, 20 airlines, including British Airways, Lufthansa and Air Canada, changed their websites to call Taiwan part of China under orders from the Chinese regulator. The White House called the demand “Orwellian nonsense.”