Ruling elite groups in Hong Kong during the 1970s: positive non-interventionism and the rise of contention
The previous two chapters have set the historical and institutional background in which political groups of the two city-states interact. In this chapter, we now turn to the ruling elite groups in colonial Hong Kong during the 1970s and early 1980s. In 1972, ten oﬃcials from Hong Kong’s Secretariat of Home Aﬀairs went
to Singapore to uncover the secrets behind the Southeast Asian city-state’s economic and political development. Since Hong Kong at the time faced similar problems to Singapore, from overcrowding to rapid modernization, it comes as no surprise that Hong Kong’s leaders considered emulating a system that had become politically stable, despite rapid growth, in a tremendously short period of time. The government oﬃcials’ stated goal was to imitate certain features of Singapore’s stable political environment. James So, then City District Commissioner of Kowloon, contended that “We feel that we could apply, with some modiﬁcation, certain administrative methods in use here to suit Hong Kong” (quoted in SCMP 12 Jan. 1972). With this intention in mind, Hong Kong’s ruling elite strategy developed in the same direction as that of Singapore, but, unlike in Singapore, administrators were unable to contain the rise of contentious politics. While the ruling elite presented itself as a homogeneous block, there was a
visible diﬀerence between those who advocated greater involvement in society and those who were opposed to restricting Hong Kong’s free market. Because the governor, who was an advocate of the former, depended on the support of the business leaders, he had to balance between interventionism and laissezfaire. The incentive for these groups to continue this precarious relationship was the shared goal of economic growth, which depended on the status quo of the relationship between the political groups. At the same time, there was also a gap in the communication between diﬀerent groups and an inability on the part of the government to monopolize its external communications. Within the ruling elite, a sense of superiority was widespread, especially among expatriates, which led to paternalistic dispositions. While, similarly to Singapore, the overall success of the government in developing the city-state added to its performance legitimacy, there were also signiﬁcant diﬀerences in the extent of the success. In the last part of this chapter, we will turn our
attention to the goals and tactics of the power-holders. The government emphasized social progress and, unlike in Singapore, used coercion sparingly and outside of the public eye. Instead, it tried to rely almost solely on coopting the opposition into existing government channels. In times of intense conﬂict, the government also showed willingness to compromise.