Flexible Corporate Nationality: Transforming Cathay Pacific for the Shifting Geopolitics of Hong Kong in the Closing Decades of British Colonial Rule

Cathay Pacific’s shifting shareholder base underscores the dynamic interactions between the state and the market in an ever-changing geopolitical landscape. Focusing on its later transformation from a British airline, this article explores how Cathay Pacific refashioned its shareholding to respond to the shifting political climate of Hong Kong. In the protracted process through which Britain yielded jurisdictional power of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China, Cathay Pacific responded preemptively, first by enhancing its local profile, and then by appealing to economic nationalism of the sovereign state poised to take charge. The privately owned airline fashioned its corporate nationality in a bid to negotiate with political forces that affected its business development. The case of Cathay Pacific demonstrates how, in the absence of warfare, companies still need to mitigate political risks in a fluid geopolitical setting. By modifying its shareholding, Cathay Pacific crafted its corporate nationality, which proved instrumental in allaying political risks and managing business relationship with the state. The airline’s strategy attests to its dexterity as well as the pliability of the notion of “corporate nationality,” winning management the “license to operate”—legitimacy and state sponsorship—during a period of swift geopolitical shifts.