Magazine

Hong Kong’s Make-or-Break Moment

20 years after Hong Kong officially joined the PRC, the “one country, two systems” model hangs in the balance.

By Brian C. H. Fong for
Hong Kong’s Make-or-Break Moment
Credit: Banana Republic Images, Shutterstock

In October, Catalonians are going to hold a referendum in which voters will be asked to answer this question: “Do you want Catalonia to be an independent country in the form of a republic?” The Spanish government fiercely opposes the referendum and has vowed to use all possible means, including taking over the Catalonian civil service and police, to stop the referendum from being held. Without doubt, the current political impasse is the result of the escalation of conflicts between the Catalonians and the Spanish government over the past few years.

It is worth noting that for many decades the mainstream demand of the Catalonians, as usually pointed out by political scientists, has been autonomy (particularly when compared with the Basques, who strongly favor outright independence). But since 2010 the Catalonians’ demands for greater autonomy (especially with regards to fiscal autonomy) have faced stronger and stronger rebuttals by the Spanish government under the leadership of the People’s Party. The two sides have been plunged into a vicious cycle – the centralism of the Spanish government has somehow pushed the Catalonians to escalate their demands from autonomy to secession, and the growing secessionist demands of Catalonians have in turn prompted the Spanish government to further tighten its grip on Catalonia.

In textbooks, political scientists usually describe such a vicious cycle as the clash of state-building nationalism (the conscious efforts of the center to assimilate and incorporate peripheries into the centralizing state) and periphery nationalism (the conscious efforts of the periphery to defend its autonomy and to resist incorporation by a centralizing state).

Unfortunately, a similar drama can also be found on the other side of the earth – Hong Kong under Chinese sovereignty.