Academic journal article International Journal of China Studies

China's United Front Work in Civil Society: The Case of Hong Kong+

Academic journal article International Journal of China Studies

China's United Front Work in Civil Society: The Case of Hong Kong+

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article unravels China's united front work in dealing with civil society, using the case of Hong Kong after the political handover since 1997. While it has been widely analyzed by scholars that state corporatism characterizes the state-society relations in China, including the state's relations with its autonomous regions, Hong Kong as a special administrative region, however, shows that the ruling strategies of China are very adaptive. Comparing with the rest of China where the united front work is partly characterized by a heavy-handed policy of assimilation, the united front work in the post-handover Hong Kong illustrates a more inclusionary version of state corporatism through five types of measures, namely, integration, cooptation, collaboration, containment, and denunciation. The strategies range from soft to hard tactics, and are adopted depending upon whether the central government regards its targets as friends, valuable potential cooptees or enemies. Nevertheless, the soft and hard tactics used in parallel in Hong Kong have resulted in further politicization and polarization of the civil society, and transformed the tension between the state and the local groups into clashes between different local groups, as seen in other autonomous regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang. Over the years, the agents for state corporatism have been ever expanding in Hong Kong. The ideologies propagated have now gone beyond consensus and harmony to also include patriotism and reinterpretation of other political ideas, including universal suffrage, conducive to cultivating obedience.

Keywords: state corporatism, united front, autonomous regions, special administrative regions, Hong Kong and China

JEL classification: H70, H73, H77, Z19

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

1. Introduction

This article seeks to unravel China's united front work in dealing with civil society, using the case of Hong Kong after the political handover since 1997. While it has been widely analyzed by scholars that state corporatism characterizes the state-society relations in China, including the state's relations with its autonomous regions such as Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, the case of Hong Kong as a special administrative region, however, shows that the ruling strategies of China, an authoritarian sovereign, are very adaptive. Comparing with the rest of China where the united front work is characterized by a parallel use of soft tactics and a heavy-handed policy of assimilation, the united front work in the post-handover Hong Kong illustrates a more inclusionary version of state corporatism. As such, the case of Hong Kong is also indicative of China's adaptable ruling strategies towards its special administrative regions (which may perhaps in the future include Taiwan) and autonomous regions, as well as the future of their democratization. Overall speaking, the article investigates China's direct and indirect influence in managing Hong Kong's civil society through five types of corporatist measures, including integration, cooptation, collaboration, containment and denunciation, and their implications.

2. China's State Corporatism and United Front Work

Since the 1990s, the concept of state corporatism has been widely used by scholars in analyzing the ruling strategies of China. In practice, parts of such strategies are often referred to as the united front work by Beijing. The two terms are not mutually exclusive, nevertheless. While state corporatism indi- cates China's overall ruling framework, its united front work is the relatively informal and soft tactics adopted to build friendship and its following, which include the work to educate, persuade, coopt and integrate people.

Corporatism is a long-established theory in the study of politics and has different variants. Based on the different degrees of state centralization and organization of corporatist institutions subject to historical and cultural differences, corporatism can be distinguished into strong, intermediate and weak types, as well as political, societal or neo-corporatism (Foweraker, 1987; Wiarda, 1996). …

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