Hong Kong's Tortuous Democratization: A Comparative Analysis

By Ming Sing | Go to book overview

6

Renewed British-led democratic reform from 1992 to 1994

Ambivalence in public support for democratic reform

The last British-led democratic reform: new stage of bargaining for Hong Kong’s democratic transition (1992 to 1994)

Comparative studies of countries in Asia, Southern Europe, and Latin America have confirmed that elites’ consensus on the rules of the game of a democratic polity is crucial for a democratic transition and consolidation (Mainwaring et al., 1992). In Hong Kong, democratization progressed slowly beginning in the mid-1980s, and resulted in a limited democracy in mid-1997. Moreover, within few months after the widely publicized handover of the territory from Britain to China, the process was drastically reversed.

Indeed, Hong Kong’s pattern of democratic transition is uncommon. As a British colony destined to be decolonized not by becoming independent, but by reversion to mainland China, democratic transition in Hong Kong was dependent on two external regimes. Given that the ruling elites of the two external regimes failed to reach a consensus on Hong Kong’s democratization, the process was under severe strain. This strained relationship can be traced back to October 1992, following a change in British policy and the arrival of a new Governor, Chris Patten. These changes triggered political struggles over democratization. The Chinese Government, like other authoritarian regimes, attempted to undo any democratic reform including that of Patten for Hong Kong both before and after the handover of Hong Kong’s sovereignty

This chapter has the following aims: first, in the light of the bargaining perspective set out in Chapter 2, it will highlight how and why the key political actors in Hong Kong played out their roles as they were with respect to the reform. We will start first with the firm positions of the British and Chinese Governments, explaining in particular why the former switched to a hard-line stance towards the latter in pushing for Hong Kong’s democratization. Second, I will explain why both the public and organized pro-democracy groups failed to exert strong bargaining power vis-à-vis the Chinese Government on the issue, that has increased the likelihood for the reform to be nullified by the Chinese after 1997.

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