Asia Minute: Why Protest at Hong Kong Airport?

Aug 14, 2019

Flights have resumed at the Hong Kong airport following a couple of days of protests — including some violent confrontations with police. Targeting the airport has generated international publicity for demonstrators, but also something more.

Hong Kong’s airport is one of the busiest in the world, and disruptions are symbolic. The airport was a triumph of the early days of Hong Kong’s handover, it opened for business in July 1998 –just a year after the British turned control of the city back to China.

Hong Kong’s old airport at Kai Tak had charms of a different kind since opening in 1925.

Located smack in the urban area of Kowloon, it was also known as one of the most difficult for pilots to navigate — with planes flying so low and so close to nearby apartment buildings that passengers could see residents hanging laundry.

The new airport was a 20-billion dollar engineering marvel built on reclaimed land designed to be spacious, sleek, and modern. A point of pride for Hong Kong and for China. It was also built for international business, with an efficient high-speed rail whisking passengers from the central business district to the airport in less than half an hour.

The airport also represents Hong Kong’s role as a link to Asia, and to China. It’s the busiest cargo hub in the world, and passengers can fly to more than 150 destinations — including more than 40 in mainland China.

That’s why even before the occupation of the airport, protestors were handing out pamphlets explaining their positions printed in more than half a dozen languages.