chapter  3
19 Pages

Depoliticization and the rise of social protest in Hong Kong during the 1970s

The history of Hong Kong has much in common with that of Singapore. Both city-states originate in the colonial history of the British Empire, which gave them similar institutions. Both were captured by the Japanese in World War II and afterwards slowly decolonized. However, while Singapore became independent, because of Hong Kong’s peculiar relationship with the Chinese motherland, due to an “unequal” treaty forced on the Chinese by the British in 1842 and the land lease of 1898, as well as rising nationalist sentiments, the city-state could not become independent. Instead, the British government opted for significant autonomy of its colony, which led to self-sufficiency. Another similarity was the economic modernization of the two city-states, which often pitted them against each other as economic rivals (Jao 1997). At the same time, it provided opportunities for a rising opposition movement that was an outgrowth of the increasing complexity of the state. However, there are significant differences in the economic transformation. While Hong Kong’s laissez-faire policy and fortuitous historical events helped to propel the economy, the Singaporean leaders’ emphasis on the developmental state closely guided the economy. Finally, a correlation can be made between the 1966/67 riots in Hong Kong and communal and Communist riots in Singapore during the 1950s and early 1960s. These events made it necessary to deal with contentious politics, which often meant co-opting critics into government institutions and also legitimized the use of coercion against more threatening opponents. In the second part of this chapter, the focus will be on the institutions of

Hong Kong’s bureaucratic regime. While the city-state had a Legislative Council and an Executive Council, neither of these institutions was very powerful. Instead, power rested with the governor and the bureaucracy, while the latter was perhaps the most powerful. Even though Hong Kong was considered more liberal than Singapore, the city-state had similar regulations, which potentially could be used to contain oppositional groups. Furthermore, while the government promoted the independence of the judiciary to the international business community, there were also those who challenged its true independence, because it was controlled by the administrative state (Downey 1975). Finally, Hong Kong did have some democracy, in the form

of the Urban Council. While it provided oppositional groups with an institutional platform for voicing discontent, it also contributed to the co-option of dissent and the depoliticization of society.