HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

George F. Baker, Jr. Professor of Public Management, HKS; Eliot I. Snider and Family Professor of Business Administration, HBS


Hong Kong is in the midst of the most rapid political transition in China, and the success of this transition is crucial not only for the seven million residents of Hong Kong but also for the future of China itself. How the authorities in Beijing respond to democratic demands from Hong Kong, and how the government of Hong Kong treads a democratic pathway within the boundaries of the Basic Law, are two of the most important questions in international politics today. China’s decisions about Hong Kong will tell us much about the prospects of democratic transformation in China itself. Under British rule, Hong Kong developed what we term a strong “culture of liberty” – which by itself does not constitute or provide democracy, but which is a necessary foundation for any democratic institutions worthy of the name. What Britain did not attempt – at least until 1992, and, some would say, even thereafter – was any serious development of locally-based institutions of direct democracy. This meant that when Hong Kong was transferred to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, it had in place a novel, untested, and at best incomplete set of political institutions for democracy. In this paper, we describe the political system of Hong Kong and the series of reforms that have been undertaken since 1997, and suggest further steps that we believe would help to build a more effective democratic system. We outline a set of general principles about democratic governance, observing that any democratic system must provide mechanisms for authority (the ability to act), accountability (the requirement to provide information about accomplishments and to be held accountable for performance), and answerability (the requirement to provide information and answers to the public, media, and legislative authorities). We view Hong Kong’s institutions through this lens, providing comparisons to the British, Canadian, and American systems. Finally, we provide a series of suggestions about additional reforms that Hong Kong should consider, focusing mainly on devices to make party politics more robust, effective, and socially productive by giving parties a better-defined and more influential role in governance.


Axworthy, Thomas S., and Herman B. Leonard. "The Long March in Hong Kong: Continuing Steps in the Transition from Colony to Democracy." KSG Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP06-033, August 2006.