Hong Kong's post-1997 institutional crisis: Problems of governance and institutional incompatibility

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The protest by over half a million people on July 1, 2003, unleashed the most serious crisis of governance in Hong Kong since its retrocession to China in 1997. Triggered by the government's attempt to legislate new national security legislation, it exposed more fundamental institutional defects of an increasingly weakened government. This article puts forward two arguments. First, the political logic of the pre-1997 period was not compatible with the post-1997 political environment and public sentiment, resulting in a widening cognitive gap between government and people. Second, the former colonial administration, despite its non-democratic nature, was able to secure sufficient public acquiescence and acceptance through economic performance and service delivery. The new government was constrained by both economic and fiscal difficulties and unexpected social crises. A declining capacity to perform effectively had further eroded public support. Attempted reforms of the bureaucracy and the introduction of a new ministerial system had caused greater political-administrative disjunction and actually compounded the crisis of governance. Copyright © 2005 East Asia Institute.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-167
JournalJournal of East Asian Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2005



Cheung A. B. L. (2005). Hong Kong's post-1997 institutional crisis: Problems of governance and institutional incompatibility. Journal of East Asian Studies, 5(1), 135-167. doi: 10.1017/S1598240800006287


  • Executive-led system
  • Institutional relationships
  • State capacity
  • Policy and implementation failures
  • Crisis management
  • Probity and accountability shortfall
  • National security legislation
  • Confidence in political institutions
  • Constitutional reform
  • Democracy substitution