After the CEO of Hong Kong’s largest airline resigned—Britain’s Rupert Hogg—due to political pressure exerted by the Chinese regime on the company in an attempt to condemn anti-government protests, the head of the Cathay Dragon Cabin Crew Association—the region’s second airline—reported that she was fired for political reasons.

“All employees are frightened, not just the cabin crew, but also the management,” said Rebecca Sy, who said she was fired, without explanation, after managers saw and confirmed her protest—related messages on her Facebook account—statements the company would deny, according to Reuters. 

“My colleagues are frightened by their ‘white terror,'” she emphasized Friday at a press conference convened by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions. She used an expression that has become common in the Asian city to describe the “climate of fear” currently experienced by anyone who dares to resist Beijing policies.

During the conference, representatives of the workers’ associations assured that 14 people had already been fired for supporting the historic protests that began three months ago against the Chinese totalitarian government’s extradition bill. The protests have become a pro-democracy movement, seeking to ensure that Hong Kong continues to maintain its special administrative regime.

According to Reuters, both the pilots and the Cathay Pacific crew pointed out that within the company there is “a campaign of political denunciations, dismissals and telephone searches by Chinese aviation officials.”

“White Terror” Extends to All Sectors

Employees in various fields, especially in the financial industry, also expressed their fear of being reported to management by their colleagues, if they express any sympathy for pro-democracy protests.

“Now the best way is to remain silent, because people could stab you in the back without any obvious benefit,” said to Reuters, a worker who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of further retaliation, explaining later that a co-worker reported him to management.

Some extreme cases were also recorded, in which those involved reported having “received calls from Chinese authorities after posting protest comments on Facebook.”

“It feels like we’re back in the era of the Cultural Revolution,” said the executive of a large corporation, referring to Communist leader Mao Zedong’s 1966 campaign on China, which encouraged people to report on their acquaintances, friends, colleagues, and family members who did not comply with the Chinese regime’s guidelines.

The pressure has even reached the international reference consulting group “Big Four”—Deloitte, PwC, EY and KPMG—after these published separate public statements expressing support for the principle of administrative independence enjoyed by Hong Kong known as “one country, two systems,” and rejecting violent acts that took place in the city.

The Chinese state-run Global Times lobbied and criticized the “Big Four” for not showing a clear official position on the protests, arguing “that big companies have an obligation to make their positions known to the public.”

As a result of pressure, many Hong Kong companies are opting to follow the line of the Communist Party in order to avoid possible repercussions after what happened with the airline Cathay Pacific.

Economic repercussions

“If China follows this approach, it will be very detrimental not only to foreign investors, but also to the continent’s own economy,” warned Bloomberg analyst Ben Bland.

Bland, director of the Southeast Asian project at the Lowy Institute, said that now companies—not only Cathay Pacific—which until now were considered a lucrative bridge between East and West for maintaining their independence from the Chinese regime, could begin to lose credibility in the markets as they begin to give in to all their demands.

He also warned that the actions being taken by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will end up discouraging foreign investors “at a time when its economy is slowing down and the intensification of the confrontation with the United States is holding back business sentiment.” 

The problem could even affect, he continued, the “costly campaign” underway by the CCP to “convince the world” that it has no power over the Huawei telecommunications group, despite having been able to influence the change of executive director of the Cathay Pacific airline, or more recently, the resignation of a board member of First Pacific Co., a South-East Asian conglomerate, which had previously been denied entry into Hong Kong after it announced its opposition to Beijing’s “expansive claims” in the China Sea.

“China runs the risk of becoming a victim of its own success,” because although corporations—due to their “selfish nature”—would give in to party pressures to protect their profits in the short term, the business fabric would eventually deteriorate in the long term, that is “the size of the cake will shrink,” concluded Bland.