A protester shows a placard to stranded travelers during a demonstration at the Airport in Hong Kong earlier this week
Photo: AP

Rupert Hogg, the CEO of Cathay Pacific Airways, has resigned following conflict between the Hong Kong-based airline and the Chinese government in Beijing. The new CEO will be Augustus Tang Kin-wing, according to the South China Morning Post, and the airline released a bizarre statement about the future.

Hogg’s resignation comes as Cathay Pacific found itself in the middle of a heated debate about the speech rights of workers in Hong Kong. Hogg, who became CEO in May of 2017, has been critical of the pro-democracy protests that are currently in their tenth week, and he warned employees against showing up at “illegal” gatherings. The protests helped shut down the Hong Kong International Airport twice this week, creating headlines around the world.

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Cathay Pacific recently fired two pilots and two airport staff for participating in the demonstrations, reportedly at the direction of the Chinese government, though it’s not immediately clear what role Beijing had in getting Hogg out of his position as CEO. Paul Loo, another executive at the airline, has also stepped down according to the South China Morning Post, which is owned by the online commerce giant Alibaba.

Curiously, the news of Hogg’s resignation was first announced by Chinese-state media outlet CCTV and not Hong Kong media. A statement from Cathay Pacific’s chairman was posted to another Chinese-run media outlet, CGTN, that referred to Hong Kong politics and not to the personnel changes at the airline:

“Cathay Pacific fully supports Hong Kong’s implementation of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle and we have full confidence in Hong Kong’s bright future,” said John Slosar, chairman of Cathay Pacific in the statement.

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The “one country, two systems” principle refers to Hong Kong’s handover as a British colony in 1997. But more and more Hong Kongers feel like China is exerting too much influence in the semi-autonomous region, especially after an extradition bill was introduced that would make it easier for Beijing to bring so-called criminals to the mainland.

A statement to news site Rappler was even more odd, saying that the CEO resigned in order, “to take responsibility as a leader of the Company in view of recent events.”

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The demonstrations in Hong Kong show no sign of letting up, though protests at the airport were halted yesterday because of an injunction prohibiting who could enter the terminals. The airport appears to be operating normally today.

Beijing is amassing troops in Shenzhen, just over the border with Hong Kong, in an ominous sign that the Chinese government may be ready to use the military in an effort to put down the protests. Photos published to the Associated Press overnight show armored vehicles preparing at Shenzhen Bay Stadium.

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Cathay Pacific’s stock price has plummeted this week, hitting a 10 year low. And as Gizmodo pointed out earlier this week, rich people really hate losing money.

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There are quite a few people in China who are losing a lot of money right now, all thanks to disruptions caused by the protests, and they’re probably not going to give up until they’re raking it in again. Meanwhile, millions of young people in Hong Kong realize that this is a defining moment for them and they have no plans to live under China’s authoritarian rule. With both sides refusing to back down, things can get messy in a hurry.

Whatever happens, our hats are off to the protesters. It’s not easy standing up for democracy, and many Americans are with you, even if our idiotic president isn’t. Stay strong and stay safe.

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