Images of swelling crowds on the streets of Hong Kong are inescapable these days. While these protests against increasing Chinese control of the city have been on for a while, the authorities’ closure of Hong Kong airport on Monday still came as a rude shock. The airport authorities cited “disruption" as the reason, a reference to protestors storming terminals and causing chaos. But was that reason enough? Hong Kong’s airport is considered to be one of the world’s ten most busiest—the eighth, by one count—and it serves one of the eastern hemisphere’s biggest financial centres. Any isolation has the potential to spread panic among market traders.

The ban on takeoffs and landings has been lifted since, but the lingering effects are visible in the large number of flight cancellations. No modern city can afford such uncertainty in a day and age when air connectivity is crucial to its economy. For Hong Kong to stay open for business, its entry and exit points must remain open, not matter what the circumstances are. This is fundamental, especially to a port city with a long tradition of relative openness.

Openness, of course, could mean different things to different people. The residents of Hong Kong, many of whom remember the days of British rule before its handover to China in 1997, have a set of expectations—on the judicial system that’s applicable to them, for example—that Beijing seems unwilling to grant in its entirety. This has resulted in popular protests against Beijing’s control of life in the former colony. What both sides need to bear in mind is the negative impact of the prolonged standoff on not just China’s, but also Hong Kong’s economy. Turmoil is bad enough. An airport being closed only worsens matters.

Close