In Search of Trust and Legitimacy: The political Trajectory of Hong Kong as Part of China

Anthony Cheung


In the 1980s and 1990s, the impending return of Hong Kong to China by 1997 had triggered a major confidence crisis in Hong Kong. A new logic of governance would have to be created to substitute the then colonial logic which emphasized administrative efficiency and the rule of convenience, a logic that the local population had implicitly accepted out of political acquiescence. However, the path towards a new Hong Kong as a special administrative region (SAR) had not been accompanied by the proper decolonization and democratization of the governance system. Old wine was put into new bottle. The political order as enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law had largely been a continuation (and at most a re-institutionalization) of the ancient regime. Since 1997, the Hong Kong SAR has been suffering from one legitimacy crisis after another. The infallibility of the administrative state, long held responsible for Hong Kong’s success story in the final decades of British colonial rule, has by now been largely eroded. In 2002, government by bureaucrats was replaced by government by politically-appointed ministers, in the hope of enhancing executive accountability and improving policy performance and governance effectiveness. Yet, that failed to deliver results. This article traces the development of the post-colonial administrative state in Hong Kong from 1997 to the present.

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