Mass Protests and the Structure of Power in Contemporary Hong Kong

Tower Center Associate, Dr. Macabe Keliher, wrote an analysis of the protests and structures of power in contemporary Hong Kong in the context of politics, Beijing, law, and the political economy. The recent uprisings are only the most extreme manifestation of the tens of thousands of similar protests that occur annually. Sustained civil unrest in Hong Kong has been met by legislation such as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) National Security Law, which criminalized anti-China speech and advocacy for Hong Kong’s independence and authorized police force against such demonstrators. The most common theme in these protests is the demand for universal suffrage in Hong Kong; however, the friction in power structures between Hong Kong and Beijing continues to thwart this goal. In Hong Kong, there is no mechanism to align registered voters, corporate and sectoral interests, and the Chief Executive Election Committee to converge politics. At the same time, Beijing is demonstrating solid efforts to integrate Hong Kong into China and undermine civil society by taking over and censoring media, industrial co-optation, buying out infrastructure projects to link Hong Kong to the mainland and allowing a massive flow of tourists and immigrants to Hong Kong.

Historical context is the final crucial segment in Dr. Keliher’s analysis of the relationship between mass protests and power structures in Hong Kong. First, China traced national unity with Hong Kong back to Hong Kong’s cession to Britain in the 19th century. Additionally, the document that lays out the relationship between China’s government and Hong Kong, the Basic Law, was drafted to serve the economic and political elite. The Basic Law functions as a constitution for Hong Kong, yet it sets out a series of precepts that must be adhered to avoid the threat of state ownership and government control of private capital. As the political economy evolved to further concentrate economic power into a select few, the political and economic elite morphed into a single class that perpetuates the disenfranchisement of the vast majority of Hong Kong’s citizens.

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