Academic journal article China Perspectives

The China Factor in Hong Kong Elections: 1991 to 2016

Academic journal article China Perspectives

The China Factor in Hong Kong Elections: 1991 to 2016

Article excerpt

The partially free elections in Hong Kong have always been conducted in the shadow of the People's Republic of China. Since partial elections were introduced in 1991, the China factor has been shaping the development of Hong Kong elections in three dimensions: as an ideological/identity factor, a power-structural factor, and an organisational resource factor. In recent years, with more intervention from Beijing, the China factor as a powerstructural and organisational factor has become increasingly salient in Hong Kong elections, in some cases threatening the electoral integrity of the elections. The deepening of intervention by China in turn has driven more Hong Kong people to support self-determination or independence in recent years, meaning that ideologically the China factor took on a totally different dimension in the 2016 Legislative Council elections.

This paper traces how the impact of the China factor on Hong Kong's elections changed from 1991 to 2016. The China factor as an ideological or identity factor has always shaped the major political divide in Hong Kong elections. As a power-structural factor, China as the sovereign master served to define the rules of the game in Hong Kong, to help pro-Beijing forces maintain a legislative majority and to marginalise the democrats in a bid to maintain the hybrid nature of the regime. The huge presence of Chinafunded organisations and groups in Hong Kong gives the pro-Beijing camp an immense resource edge over the pro-democracy opposition. The greatest danger to Hong Kong's autonomy is not only increasingly strong intervention from China, but also the possibility that Hong Kong people will gradually be accustomed to the omnipresent China factor in Hong Kong elections, in violation of the principles of "One Country, Two Systems."

The China factor in multiple dimensions

There are different ways to understand and analyse the impact of the China factor in Hong Kong elections. Wu saw the major impetus of the China factor lying in the utilisation of its formidable capital and resources to absorb nearby regions into its sphere of political influence (Wu 2016). In the case of Hong Kong, the China factor in electoral politics is much more complicated and multi-faceted. With most inhabitants of Hong Kong ethnically Chinese, Chinese nationalism and identity has always been an ideological factor that frames political attitudes in Hong Kong. As China holds the constitutional power to decide Hong Kong's political setup after 1997, structurally China can intervene to change the rules of Hong Kong's elections. With the Hong Kong Chief Executive selected by Beijing, the Hong Kong government is power-dependent on China. The executive branch is not politically neutral in administering the elections, but has an incentive to help the pro-Beijing/pro-government parties to marginalise the prodemocracy opposition. Beijing can also intervene to assist pro-China forces in Hong Kong with their vastly superior organisational and material resources. The China factor in Hong Kong elections has thus taken on three dimensions: the ideological/identity dimension, the power-structural dimension, and the organisational/resource dimension.

Ideological/identity dimension

Since popular elections were introduced into the Hong Kong Legislative Council (Legco) in 1991, the attitude toward the Chinese government has been a key factor determining the voting choice of Hong Kong voters (Leung 1993, 1996). Decolonisation has triggered democratisation and an indigenous democracy movement in Hong Kong since the 1980s, and the Hong Kong democrats, in their bid to fight for democracy and preserve the freedom and autonomy of Hong Kong, entered into direct conflict with the Chinese government. Since the 1980s, attitudes toward the Chinese government and democratisation have been the major political cleavage dividing political parties in Hong Kong (Lau and Kuan 2000; Ma 2002). On one side of the political divide are the democrats championing values such as rule of law, democracy, freedom, and autonomy for Hong Kong, who are accused of being "anti-China. …

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