Hong Kong airport protest has merely created unnecessary, and potentially costly, turbulence
Tony Kwok says the recent demonstration has damaged our international reputation, and protests inside the terminal building are a security risk and should be banned
Anyone travelling to Manila International airport would have observed that only those with boarding passes can enter the terminal building. Those wishing to meet or say farewell to others have to do it outside. And, after the Belgium airport bombing, similar security measures have been introduced there. Many will also recall the pro-democracy protests that paralysed Bangkok International Airport for weeks in 2008, with major inconveniences.
These are some examples of the strategic importance of keeping airports safe and running smoothly. Hong Kong is one of the world’s busiest air hubs, with over 186,000 passengers every day. So any closure or major disruption could cause chaos.
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Hence, it is most surprising that a demonstration with over 1,000 people – over staff delivering the luggage of the chief executive’s younger daughter to a restricted area – was allowed to go ahead inside the terminal. This is particularly surprising, given that some recent protests have ended in violence. Fortunately, this incident was peaceful – mainly because police deployed hundred of officers and warned that strong action would be taken if anyone overstepped the mark.
It is also telling that the demonstration was said to be initiated by air crew associations. But ground and security staff were absent, suggesting they knew it was a non-issue as they provide this customer service all the time.
Second, reports said only a handful of protesters were from air crew associations; they risked the hard-earned image of all local crews. Also, the pan-democrats seemed to be running the show. There were even placards urging people to vote for them, turning it into an “election meeting”.
Third, news of the protest quickly spread, harming the international reputation of the airport, which is already facing tough competition.
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It now seems clear the pan-democrats have turned a simple customer service case into a political issue. A report released by the Airport Authority shows such services are provided on a daily basis; there were 517 similar “courtesy deliveries” in the past year. I was involved in one of them when I discovered I did not have my passport in the restricted area. A relative rushed it to the airport and the friendly Cathay Pacific ground staff helped get it through security.
Imagine if, as a result of this protest, staff refused to bring through the passport of a pan-democrat. Imagine, also, if that person needed to take an urgent flight. How would they feel then?
Public demonstrations should be kept out of passenger terminals; it is playing with fire and we cannot afford that risk.
Tony Kwok is a former deputy commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption and currently an honorary fellow and adjunct professor of HKU School of Professional and Continuing Education