The China Quarterly is pleased to award the 2014 Gordon White Prize to Brian C.H. Fong for his article “The Partnership between the Chinese Government and Hong Kong’s Capitalist Class: Implications for HKSAR Governance, 1997–2012” (No. 217, March 2014, pp. 195–220). The prize is awarded every year to honour Gordon White, who achieved great distinction for his analysis of modern Chinese politics and society, and for his efforts to promote teaching and research on China. He served as a member of the Editorial Board and Executive Committee of The China Quarterly from 1991 until his death in 1998.

Below is an article by Dr Fong based on the themes of his prize-winning article.

To know Hong Kong politics, we need to know the dynamics of state–business relations

Throughout its journey from a former British colony to a “Special Administrative Region” under Chinese sovereignty, Hong Kong has long been governed by a state–business alliance. The key to understanding the nature and characteristics of Hong Kong politics, both before and after 1997, is in studying the dynamics of these state–business relations. It is this that offers the major reason behind my systematic study on Hong Kong’s state–business alliance in the past few years [Note], including my manuscript entitled “The Partnership between the Chinese Government and Hong Kong’s Capitalist Class: Implications for HKSAR Governance, 1997–2012” published by The China Quarterly in 2014.

Studying state–business relations is never an easy task, given the black-box nature of the relations and the practical difficulties in gaining access to top business tycoons. During my research process I relied heavily on conducting some form of quantitative analysis (which were based on datasets obtained from open information sources such as government publications and company financial reports) so as to discern the striking empirical patterns that underline the nature and the functioning of the state–business alliance in Hong Kong (e.g. occupational backgrounds of Hong Kong National People’s Congress and Chinese People Political Consultative Conference delegates after 1997, percentage of assets held by Hong Kong conglomerates in the Mainland, etc.). Alongside this quantitative analysis, in-depth interviews with influential political actors with first-hand experience of state–business alliances in Hong Kong (e.g. pro-business legislators and former senior government officials) have helped me gain primary understanding of the dynamics behind the “black box.”

Hong Kong is undoubtedly now entering a critical stage of political development, with the Hong Kong Legislative Council set to vote on a constitutional reform proposal for implementing Chief Executive direct election in 2017. No matter whether the constitutional reform proposal will be passed or not, state–business alliance shall remain the core foundation of the political order as engineered by Beijing, with business elites continuing to form the majority of the political establishment (e.g. the Election Committee for electing the Chief Executive or the Nominating Committee for nominating Chief Executive candidates for direct election) and remaining the principal co-option targets of Beijing’s united front (as reflected in the membership of the Hong Kong National People’s Congress and Chinese People Political Consultative Conference delegates). Nevertheless, one key issue that we should observe in the years to come is whether Beijing leaders will still rely on business elites as its major agent for governing Hong Kong, or will they change the previous “indirect rule” (governing through business elites) into a more “direct rule” (governing through its direct descendants including the Central Liaison Office and the traditional leftists). This will certainly be an important research topic for political scientists who are interested in Hong Kong and Chinese politics.

Note:
Brian C. H. Fong (2014). Hong Kong’s Governance under Chinese Sovereignty: The Failure of the State–Business Alliance after 1997.  Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge, 2015.

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