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Hong Kong pro-democracy unrest fuels boycott calls in China

Updated August 10, 2019

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A #BoycottCathayPacific thread on Chinese social media platforms has attracted more than 17 million views. — Reuters/File
A #BoycottCathayPacific thread on Chinese social media platforms has attracted more than 17 million views. — Reuters/File

BEIJING: Companies are getting caught in the crossfire of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy unrest, with Chinese state-run media inciting boycott campaigns against firms seen to be backing the protesters.

Hong Kong’s flagship airline, Cathay Pacific, has become one of the highest-profile targets, while a Taiwanese bubble tea franchise and a popular Japanese sports drink have also felt online fury.

A #BoycottCathayPacific thread on Chinese social media platforms has attracted more than 17 million views and 8,000 comments, partly fuelled by articles from the powerful state-run press.

“The four sins of Cathay Pacific Airlines,” read a headline this week in the People’s Daily, the main mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, as it detailed actions by the carrier and its staff that were perceived as being supportive of the pro-democracy movement.

On Friday, China’s aviation regulator demanded that the airline prevent staff who have shown support for the protests from working on flights to the mainland or routed through Chinese airspace.

It also ordered the carrier to hand over identity information of staff on mainland-bound flights starting Sunday — declaring unapproved flights would not be allowed in.

The boycott campaigns have built over the past week alongside signs of growing anger by Chinese authorities against the protesters, who have relentlessly taken to the streets for more than two months demanding greater freedoms.

When it took back control of Hong Kong from the British in 1997, China committed to giving the city a large degree of autonomy and allowing its residents far more liberties than those allowed on the mainland.

The protests have been fuelled by widespread anger at an erosion of these liberties, including freedom of speech, and a perceived reneging by Beijing of the “one country, two systems” legal framework for its rule of Hong Kong.

Echoing comments from officials, Chinese state media have ramped up rhetoric against the “radical” protests that have been organised by “violent criminals”.

Social media on the mainland, which sits behind a censorship ‘firewall’ and where freedom of speech is not tolerated, has in turn echoed state media.

“Although bubble tea is delicious, it is nothing compared to national sovereignty,” wrote one user on Weibo joining on online campaign against Taiwanese tea house Yifang.

“Starting today, I will boycott all bubble tea shops that support Hong Kong and Taiwan independence!” “I will not buy it [bubble tea], even if I die of thirst!” posted another.

Global Times, one of the highest profile and most nationalistic state run media outlets, reported this week that the #bubbleteaboycott had attracted 230 million views on Weibo.

One of Yifang’s branches in Hong Kong had reportedly hung a sign cheering on the city’s pro-democracy protesters. That shop in Hong Kong was later vandalised, according to Taiwanese broadcaster TVBS

Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2019