The politics of crisis management in post-1997 Hong Kong : a state-society interactive framework

  • Hin Yeung CHAN

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


Most studies and research on crisis management and government crises put their focus on advanced, democratic nations, where governments have to bear the responsibility of handling of a crisis through elections. However, relatively little attention has been given on the consequences of crises, particularly governance crises, in regimes without full democracy. By using post-1997 Hong Kong, a liberal society with limited democracy, as an example, this thesis aims to examine the applicability of crisis management theories and models currently available, and to introduce an entirely new State-society Interactive Framework 1 to tackle their limitations.

The Five Tasks Leadership Approach suggested by Boin, 't Hart and Stern, et al. (2005) and the Pattern of Politicization Approach of Brandstrom and Kuipers (2003), which respectively represents the top-down and bottom-up crisis management approaches, are selected as the analytical framework. This thesis begins with an application of these two approaches on an analysis of two noticeable crisis cases in post-1997 Hong Kong – the 1 July 2003 Demonstration and the Anti-High Speed Railway incident. Based on the results, this research found that the applicability of current theories and models derived from previous studies is restrictive in two aspects - First, the level of severity of the crises affects the validity of those studies. Hence, for the purpose of effective interpretation, only mega-crises are chosen for this thesis. Second, instead of explaining the incident, most of the current theories view crises as a clue for fault-finding in the aftermath, with little attention devoted to the development process.

Drawing upon different approaches in the field, this thesis has developed a heuristic Crisis Development Ladder and the State-society Interactive Framework more relevant for limited democracies, such as Hong Kong and Mainland China. The Crisis Development Ladder refers to the flow from crisis to governance crisis and from governance crisis to change. At each stage of this process, there are interactions between the Crisis Strengthening Forces and Weakening Forces. By focusing on the Catalytic Effect of Crisis that accelerates reforms and changes, this research argues that critical crisis is politically influential and decisive in authoritarian system with an increasingly proactive civil society. This research has illustrated the deliberation of developing a crisis-driven society as an alternative to influence decision-making under non-democratic rule with valid examples. The current result suggests that crises are far beyond unfavourable situations that challenge the legitimacy of the government. More importantly, in the context of Hong Kong as well as other non-democratic systems, crises provide opportunities to initiate political changes. The current political institution in Hong Kong makes it possible for the government to pay no heed to the wants of the general public. Thus, the cases explored in this thesis show how activists and those who are not involved in the decision-making process use crises as a catalyser to impose sufficient political influence to the government so as to force a real change under a closed political system.
Date of Award2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Political Science
SupervisorYiu Chung WONG (Supervisor) & Che Po CHAN (Supervisor)

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