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Cathay Pacific CEO resigns amid Beijing pressure

Cathay Pacific CEO Rupert Hogg speaks in Hong Kong in 2017. Cathay Pacific announced Friday that Hogg was resigning.
Cathay Pacific CEO Rupert Hogg speaks in Hong Kong in 2017. Cathay Pacific announced Friday that Hogg was resigning. (Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images)
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HONG KONG — The chief executive of Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong’s flagship carrier, resigned Friday, the company said, after coming under intense pressure from officials in Beijing for its employees’ taking part in protests that have carried on for over two months.

Rupert Hogg’s resignation was accepted by the company’s board of directors earlier in the day, a statement said. Paul Loo, the airline’s chief customer and commercial officer who additionally serves as the chief executive of the Hong Kong Express, Cathay’s low-cost arm, also resigned.

The resignations, which come after the firing of two Cathay Pacific pilots previously suspended for their role in the protests, demonstrate the intensifying pressure from Beijing on some of Hong Kong’s best-known businesses after their employees backed the protests.

Aviation workers have organized demonstrations at Hong Kong’s airport, participated in sit-ins and a general strike, to push their territory’s government into meeting demands of their months-long movement.

Hogg will be replaced by Augustus Tang. Loo’s role at Cathay will be filled by Ronald Lam, both effective Monday. A new CEO for Hong Kong Express will be named at a later date, the company said.

China’s aviation regulator ordered Cathay last week to bar employees who support or join demonstrations, which began this spring over a proposed extradition law, from doing any work involving flights to China. The Civil Aviation Administration of China also demanded Cathay hand over details of crew working in Chinese airspace. Hogg said Monday that staff could be fired if they “support or participate in illegal protests.”

The company has also drawn the ire of Chinese state media, notably the English language Global Times, which has repeatedly admonished it.

John Slosar, chairman of Cathay Pacific, praised Hogg’s work over the past three years, but said in a statement that “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,” Slosar said.

He added: “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.”

Hogg became CEO in May 2017, and his resignation comes two days after the airline fired two pilots who were previously suspended. One was arrested during a protest last month and charged with rioting. The other was found to be misusing company information on a Monday flight from Manchester to Hong Kong, when Hong Kong International Airport was occupied by thousands of protesters. 

Cathay’s flight attendant union was among those that backed a general strike earlier this month, bringing transportation networks to a standstill and forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights. Employees of the airline also signed a statement with Hong Kong Airlines employees, condemning the use of force by police and repeating protester demands that the police must be independently investigated. 

“The strike is not an attempt at industrial action, but rather a cry of outrage at the Hong Kong government,” the statement said.

In an interview with The Washington Post earlier this week, pro-democracy lawmaker Charles Mok, who represents Hong Kong’s IT sector, cited Cathay as the clearest example of the increased risk that comes for Hong Kong businesses that run afoul of Beijing. 

“You see a lot of pressure coming from China,” Mok said. “Many people in the public and in the business community are beginning to tie things together. They see that Beijing is working hand-in-hand to escalate the pressure on businesses.”

Shibani Mahtani contributed to this report. 

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