A re-examination of the governor's autonomy : three selected case studies during the sino-British talks over Hong Kong's future, from 1982 to 1985

  • Hok Yin MAN

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


In the British colonial system, the governor of a colony is often believed to be “the man on the spot with last word”,enjoying tremendous autonomy and discretion from the metropole (London) in managing colonial affairs. Nevertheless, while there is little doubt that the social and public policies, or so-called “domestic policies and affairs”, were generally part of the Colonial Governor domain to manage, the level of autonomy that he was able to exert on those policies, other than the conventional concept of “domestic policies and affairs”,remains a debatable topic. This thesis, therefore, attempts to shed new light on how much autonomy colonial governors in fact enjoyed in the colonial system, using Sir Edward Youde, Governor of Hong Kong (1982-1986), as a case study. By reviewing the three major selected policies concerning the British government and the Hong Kong government during the Sino- British negotiation in the early 1980s, namely, the British negotiation policy from 1982 to 1984 , the introduction of Hong Kong’s further representative government reform in 1984, and the introduction of the “new style” Legislative Council in 1985, this thesis re-examines how much actual “autonomy” the Governor of Hong Kong could enjoy from London, the metropole of Hong Kong, on those policies that were sensitive and could potentially lead to London5s enormous reaction in the 1980s. Through dividing the policy process into different policy tasks, findings suggest that, the degree of autonomy that the Governor was able to enjoy was considerably constrained and diminished by London in several aspects. Based on the assessment scheme developed by the author, the Governor’s autonomy had been generally limited to the task of formulating the policy agenda, policy, and implementation over the three selected policy cases. Occasionally, he was given the autonomy to act independently and to decide whether a policy should be adopted. His level of autonomy and the policy-making competence were in essence characterized by the principal-agent framework, and highly dependent on the principal’s willingness to delegate. The three selected case studies show that political salience of each of the policy might be one of the important boundaries limiting the Governor’s autonomy. Policy of higher salience to London might lead to less room for Governor to maneuver, and vice versa.
Date of Award2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Political Science
SupervisorPang Kwong LI (Supervisor) & Wai Keung TAM (Supervisor)

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