Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Maximum Flexibility, Rigid Framework: China's Policy towards Hong Kong and Its Implications

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Maximum Flexibility, Rigid Framework: China's Policy towards Hong Kong and Its Implications

Article excerpt

Hong Kong is a subject that provokes strong yet mixed feelings among policy makers in the People's Republic of China (PRC). It is both an emotional and a pragmatic issue. The aging top leaders who took an active part in the communist revolution look forward to the return of Hong Kong from the British as the final chapter in their lifelong anti-imperialist struggle -- one of the principal objectives of the communist movement. The policy makers who were raised under the red flag have been brought up to believe that Hong Kong was the last major vestige of nineteenth century Western imperialism that humiliated China, something which should and would in due course be eradicated.(1) The future of Hong Kong is thus an emotional subject that often provokes an intensely nationalistic response. At the same time, Chinese policy makers are acutely aware of Hong Kong's economic value to the PRC, which has increased rather than decreased in importance as the Dengist economic reforms progress. Their response to these conflicting demands echoes the immediate post-1949 approach devised under Mao Zedong. In the rhetoric of the Chinese leaders in the 1980s and 1990s, it is their "historic" and "sacred" mission to remove all remnants of China's humiliation by the West and use Hong Kong to set an example for Taiwan and Macao for the ultimate re-unification of the country. However, the needs of the economic reforms lead to a compromise. It involves the adoption of a policy popularized as "one country, two systems" under which this great capitalist enclave will become the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the PRC in 1997. Capitalist Hong Kong will be permitted to maintain the "status quo" (as it existed in 1984) for fifty years and enjoy "a high degree of autonomy." provided this will continue to be seen by the Chinese Communist leadership as economically beneficial and not harmful to its claim of sovereignty over the territory.

This paper begins by outlining the structure of the PRC's relevant policy-making apparatus. It then examines the forces which determine the PRC's policy towards Hong Kong and explains its nature in terms of maximum flexibility within a rigid framework. Finally, it assesses the implications of the PRC's Policy for Hong Kong.

Structure of the PRC's Policy-Making Apparatus

Since the future of Hong Kong is one that involves sovereignty and national dignity, it is a matter of great importance to top PRC leaders. The effect is that there can be no major policy decisions or changes over Hong Kong without the approval of the top leaders. In structural terms this means the Politburo of the Communist party. In practice, policies over Hong Kong often rest with the Party's Central Foreign Affairs Leading Small Group (Zhongyang Waishi Lingdao Xiaozu.(2) Its current head is Jiang Zemin, a member of the Politburo's Standing Committee and general secretary of the Party. The official head of this Small Group has not, however, always been the ultimate arbiter of policies over Hong Kong, since Deng Xiaoping, as paramount leader, retains the final say when he is physically well enough to do so.(3) This means that all major decisions over Hong Kong are in fact made by the top leaders, which in turn restricts the flexibility of senior PRC officials or diplomats -- a fact keenly observed by the British in the Sino-British negotiations between 1982 and 1984.(4)

Below the top leadership, there are three ministerial level offices which are directly involved in determining policies over Hong Kong. They are the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO) of the State Council and the Foreign Ministry, both in Beijing, and the Hong Kong and Macao Work Committee of the Communist Party in Hong Kong. The latter was elevated to full provincial status in 1983,(5) and thus holds the same bureaucratic rank as a ministry.(6) Its head is also the director of the Hong Kong branch of Xinhua News Agency and is the PRC's de facto representative in Hong Kong. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.