HK Chief Executive expresses disappointment over Cathay Pacific’s discriminatory behaviour towards Chinese passengers  while Mainland media demands service overhaul

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24th May 2023 – (Hong Kong) Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee attended the launch ceremony of the “Guangdong-Hong Kong Cooperation Week” and the opening ceremony of the SmartHK “Promoting High-Quality Development and Hong Kong Forum” in Guangzhou this morning. In his speech, he expressed his sadness over the disrespectful behaviour of Cathay Pacific Airways employees towards Mainland passengers. Lee said that these actions have hurt the feelings of Hong Kong and Mainland compatriots and have damaged Hong Kong’s longstanding culture of respect and courtesy, as well as its values. He has already raised the issue with the CEO of Cathay Pacific Airways and emphasised that similar incidents should not be allowed to occur again, and that Hong Kong’s image of hospitality and courtesy must be restored.

Meanwhile, the overseas edition of the People’s Daily published a commentary yesterday criticising Cathay Pacific Airways and demanding that the company take action to rectify the situation. The article stated that Mainland customers are one of the pillars of Hong Kong’s service industry and that employees should not discriminate against mainland customers who speak Mandarin. The commentary further demanded that Cathay Pacific “take strong measures to rectify the situation and establish regulations to stop this trend from the root.” Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of the Global Times, suggested that employees should receive education on respecting all passengers, including those from the Mainland, and recommended that Mainland passengers speak only Mandarin when flying with Cathay Pacific.

Several mainland Chinese netizens also took to social media to share their experiences of discrimination by Cathay Pacific Airways employees. Some claimed that flight attendants mocked non-English-speaking passengers, such as mispronouncing “blanket” as “carpet” and suggesting that passengers who cannot speak correct English are not qualified to receive a blanket. Many have even called for boycott against the airline.

Cathay Pacific Airways issued an apology statement on Weibo on 22nd May and announced that the involved flight attendants have been suspended from duty. The company promised to disclose the outcome of the investigation within three days.

The commentary published by the People’s Daily public account argued that Cathay Pacific Airways should not merely issue apologies every time such incidents occur, but should instead take effective measures to eradicate discriminatory behaviour. The article also criticised the airline for preserving a colonial mentality of worshipping foreign cultures and looking down on mainland Chinese people, despite being established in Hong Kong for almost 50 years.

The commentary emphasised that Hong Kong’s development relies heavily on mainland China’s support, and Mainland tourists are one of the mainstays of the city’s service industry. Discriminating against Mandarin-speaking mainland passengers is unacceptable from any perspective. The article concluded that Hong Kong is increasingly valuing Mandarin, and the younger generation’s proficiency in speaking Mandarin is rapidly improving. The city’s civil service is also placing greater emphasis on Mandarin proficiency. The article expressed confidence that the trend of worshipping English and looking down on Mandarin will eventually disappear into the tide of history.