Travelers to one of the Asia-Pacfic region’s top financial centers were left scrambling Monday as protestors swarmed Hong Kong’s airport, prompting the cancellation of approximately 200 flights in and out of the city. A controversial bill that would allow for the extradition of certain people suspected of crimes to mainland China has sparked weeks of protests as Hong Kong residents bristle at the Chinese government’s role in the semi-autonomous region. Under the “one nation, two systems” policy, Hong Kong has maintained a separate judiciary structure since the British handed control back to China at the expiration of a 99-year lease in 1997.
In recent weeks, protestors have held sit-ins at the airport on weekends in an effort to draw international attention to their demands. Monday marked the fourth consecutive day of protests at the airport, and some flight cancellations stretched into Tuesday, leaving business travelers and holiday makers to make other plans and stranding some whose flights had landed but connecting flights elsewhere were cancelled. Approximately 100,000 visitors from Australia and New Zealand travel to Hong Kong annually, and there are about 100,000 Australian citizens living there. Official government statistics say more than 600 Aussie businesses operate in Hong Kong, which is home to 120,000 graduates of Australian universities. Exports to Hong Kong from Australia topped $10 billion last year.
The airport sees 73 million passengers come through annually and is the busiest cargo airport in the world.