The Politics of China–Hong Kong Relations

The Politics of China–Hong Kong Relations

Living with Distant Masters

Peter W. Preston

In 1997 the British state relinquished control of Hong Kong and at this moment an established prosperous community was faced with reordering its sense of itself and its links with the wider world around the authority of Beijing. This book seeks to uncover the political logic of the process. Four issues are pursued: the manner of embedding a new political settlement, the business of governing the territory, the issue of democracy and the likely future of the extant form-of-life.

Chapter 3: After 1997: creating and embedding the new political settlement

Peter W. Preston

Subjects: asian studies, asian politics and policy, politics and public policy, asian politics


Over the last twenty years a number of approaches to the relationship of Hong Kong and Beijing have been embraced: first, patriotic forces in the mainland and in Hong Kong have spoken in ideological-cum-nationalist terms of return to the motherland with relationships inevitably cordial; second, some optimistic future-oriented commentators have cast matters in terms of decolonization, implying a progressive move from a less free to a more free political situation, once again with relationships implicitly cordial; third, moderate local critics of the circumstances of the territory have spoken of a transfer of power that has not been legitimated amongst the local population by any popular consultation or referendum and that as a consequence relationships are inevitably problematical; and fourth, more critical local observers have noted the continuities between the colonial and current eras and have identified a regrettable, illegitimate and flawed continuation of colonial rule. Overall, contemporary public politics in Hong Kong has been riven with disputes – all participants pay lip service to the ideal of democracy but quite what that might mean in theory and how and when it might find expression in practice are seemingly endlessly debated; a familiar pessimistic strand of scholarly commentary sees Hong Kong’s politics as structurally dysfunctional and not amenable to any readily identifiable remedy. However, alternatively, the current confusions could be read as part and parcel of the process of embedding a new political settlement in which case confusion and contestation are simply inevitable; now the broad political task is clear – where Hong Kong had to look to London, now it has to look to Beijing – thus far, the process has not gone well: local politics are fractious, relationships with Beijing unsettled.

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