China Centre Tübingen (CCT)

The Umbrella Movement and the Failure of Democratization in Hong Kong

Democratization in Hong Kong has reached a dead end following the rejection of an electoral reform proposal by the Legislative Council on June 18, 2015. The measure was voted down because pan-democrats had been deeply disappointed by the fact that the Chinese government’s reform proposal would have only allowed pre-screened candidates to run, thus denying Hong Kongers a true choice. This followed more than two months of street occupation in which protesters demanded real universal suffrage to no avail.
This lecture seeks to demonstrate how the “China factor” has inhibited the democratization process in four distinct phases of political development. Since World War II, one of the main reasons for the lack of democratization was opposition by the Chinese government. In the late 1980s, the prospect of political reforms in China briefly raised hopes for political change in Hong Kong. These hopes were crushed in China in 1989, but a democracy movement was empowered in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, activism and protests in the years since the 1997 transfer of power from Britain to China, have been unable to deliver meaningful democratization. Moreover, in recent years, Hong Kong has moved from liberal to illiberal authoritarianism, a process which has been accompanied by growing conflict and even violence as political freedoms are increasingly curtailed.

Prof. Stephan Ortmann
Department of Asian and International Studies, City University of Hong Kong

Stephan Ortmann teaches in the Department of Asian and International Studies at the City University of Hong Kong. He has worked on various issues related to political change in Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Vietnam. His publications have appeared in many refereed journals including Asian Survey, Administration and Society, Journal of Democracy, and Government and Opposition, and Pacific Review. He is the author of Politics and Change in Singapore and Hong Kong: Containing Contention (Routledge, 2010) and most recently of Environmental Governance in Vietnam: Institutional Reforms and Failures (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).

Suggested readings
Fong, Brian. 2016. “In-between liberal authoritarianism and electoral authoritarianism: Hong Kong’s democratization under Chinese sovereignty, 1997–2016,” Democratization, ahead-of-print.

Kaeding, Malte Philipp. 2017. “The Rise of ‘Localism’ in Hong Kong,” Journal of Democracy, 28:1, pp. 157-171.

Ma Ngok. 2013. “Negotiating Democracy and "High Autonomy": The 2010 Political Reform,” in Ray Yep (ed.). Negotiating Autonomy in Greater China: Hong Kong and Its Sovereign Before and After 1997. Copenhagen: Nias Press, pp. 242-268.

Ortmann, Stephan. 2016. “Political Development in Hong Kong: The Failure of Democratization,” Asian International Studies Review, 17:2, pp. 199-219.

Ortmann, Stephan. 2016. “The Lack of Sovereignty, the Umbrella Movement, and Democratisation in Hong Kong,” Asia Pacific Law Review, 24:2, pp. 108-122.