Airport blockage is self-defeating

Editorial | Mary Ma 13 Aug 2019

Yesterday was the first time that the Hong Kong International Airport was brought to a standstill due to a cause other than typhoons.

As the anti-extradition protests entered the third month and another night passed with violent clashes elsewhere in the city, thousands wearing black converged on the airport to join hundreds who had been staging sit-ins inside the terminal for several days.

The unprecedented disruption resulted in all flights out of Hong Kong yesterday being canceled, as the growing number of demonstrators prevented passengers from checking in or clearing airport security to board their flights.

While yesterday's disruption hit travelers, the economic impact will be far worse if there is a continuation or repetition. However, according to authorities, departing flights are to resume from 6am today.

Otherwise, the SAR would be integrated with the mainland much sooner than anticipated. If Hong Kong became isolated from the world, travelers would have to go to Guangzhou, Shanghai, or Beijing by high-speed trains for international flights.

If the blockage recurs and policymakers don't put out the fire with a viable solution, damage to the local economy and the city's international image would become obvious. The increased use of police force alone doesn't provide the cure.

Since the demonstrators started the airport sit-in a few days ago to appeal for international support, the Airport Authority had largely been able to maintain normal services until yesterday.

If Chek Lap Kok airport was the only place where anti-extradition protests had been relatively orderly, my concern is that its fate may eventually follow that of MTR stations in falling victim to escalated force - if riot police were to charge to disperse the crowds and make arrests.

There's no doubt the level of force being used by police and protesters has intensified drastically with bloodshed becoming frequent. Among the latest clashes, a young woman may lose sight in her right eye after unconfirmed reports said she was hit by a projectile fired by police. Meanwhile, an officer suffered leg burns due to a firebomb hurled by protesters.

The airport is Hong Kong's gateway to the world. The effect would be stunning if it becomes a battlefield.

Sadly, the chance of this happening is on the rise. As the people online spread the word on social media, calling on peers to head to the airport, they were motivated by a wish to occupy the terminal building in order to paralyze air traffic.

I hope the demonstrators will disperse peacefully after making their message known to the global community. Otherwise, I fear Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor may resort to radical measures to reclaim control, as the airport is a very important economic lifeline for the SAR.

Should the situation escalate to turn into a lasting blockage, will Lam declare a curfew making it unlawful for anyone other than those with legitimate reasons to enter the area?

I hope it won't come to that, as this would an absolutely extreme measure to take. But as time goes by, the probability is on the uptick.

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