An analysis of Fong, B. C. H. (2019). Stateless nation within a nationless state: The political past, present, and future of Hongkongers, 1949–2019. Nations and Nationalism. doi:10.1111/nana.12556

In 2019, prior to the existential calamity that Hong Kong today finds itself in, Brian C. H. Fong attempted to reconceptualize Hong Kong as not stuck in a local vs. national paradigm of separatism or assimilation, but rather as a sufficiently cohesive nation to define itself as such, but existing without a state, represented through layered “multi-level government (2).” What is problematic is that this aspirationally suggests that Hong Kongers have a clear right to autonomy or a political system that allows them to clearly articulate national desires or serve the interests of the people of Hong Kong, a notion already rejected by the NPCSC in 2015, as articulated in Wong’s work.

While Hong Kongers considering themselves an individual “stateless nation” contained within the PRC is theoretically attractive, his critical mistake is that he defines this label in terms of its, “defining feature of stateless nationalism… the pursuit of ‘some sort of greater self-government’ (7).” His own research bears out the opposite, a majority of Hong Kongers, 51%, actually oppose increased self-governance in Hong Kong (11). This frightening number is a sign that Hong Kongers, while conceiving of themselves as different, appear dishearteningly uninterested in self-governance. Thus, something deeper is occurring that lies beyond the scope of stateless nationalist theory.

The word autonomy, too, used in this paper, is also questionable in that it rejects Western concepts of autonomy as “democratic self rule” and instead calls the one-country two-systems framework (1C2S) a form of undemocratic autonomy (7). If autonomy only means rule by someone born within the same territory and does not denote any form of local representation, then the meaning of the term is relatively useless in the 1C2S framework where decisions are made and promulgated exclusively under dictum from an outside power. It is a token term, useless for the people within the “nation.”

From the LegCo to the Chief Executive, PRC meddling has meant that there is no effectively representative institutional at any level of the Hong Kong “state” apparatus. The new restrictions on free speech instituted post 2020 have further eroded the ability of Hong Kongers to openly debate political issues. There is, in effect, no state nor substate where Hong Kongers have any effective political representation whatsoever.

The paper elucidates in depth the politicization of Hong Kong, as well as the conundrum that many Hong Kongers find themselves in. What it fails to address is the persistent lack of interest by the majority in advancing Hong Kong towards autonomy. Their politicization, it would seem, has been stunted. An apparent majority would prefer external authoritarian rule to self-governance, unthinkable in any other developed locality that also has undergone limited cultural democratic transition with the existence of a semi-open legislature and fully-open district councils. This puzzle raised by this paper remains unsolved.

Staff writer: Ari B