Project Details
Funding Scheme : General Research Fund
Project Number : 17600524
Project Title(English) : Liberal Regions in Illiberal States 
Project Title(Chinese) :  
Principal Investigator(English) : Miss Chan, Cora Sau Wai 
Principal Investigator(Chinese) :  
Department : Department of Law
Institution : The University of Hong Kong
Co - Investigator(s) :
Panel : Humanities, Social Sciences
Subject Area : Social and Behavioural Sciences
Exercise Year : 2024 / 25
Fund Approved : 527,490
Project Status : On-going
Completion Date :
Abstract as per original application
The phenomenon of liberal regions within illiberal states raises intriguing questions. Why would illiberal rulers allow such regions to exist? How can the - likely acute - dissonance amongst conflicting political ideological forces be managed to avoid a collapse into unitarism or separatism? Yet, despite the phenomenon's academic and practical value, it remains underexplored. This project will be the first in-depth comparative study of the phenomenon, examining the constitutional challenges such regions face and possible solutions thereto. It will have two parts. The first will contribute to concept and theory building by comparing four historical or contemporary examples of or parallels to the phenomenon: Hong Kong under China's "one country, two systems" model, Finland in Tsarist Russia, regions in Northern Mexico prior to national democratisation, and Denmark under Nazi administration. It will distil what, if anything, is distinctive about the constitutional challenges confronting a territorial configuration with a substate polity that is substantially more liberal than the illiberal state polity (hereinafter, the liberal in illiberal structure or "LII Structure" for short), constitutional devices for addressing those challenges, and hypotheses on the factors contributing to the LII Structure's endurance. The second part will look to the aforesaid comparative study to glean lessons for the "one country, two systems" model in Hong Kong, guaranteed for 50 years until 2047 under the Sino-British Joint Declaration. The turbulent events Hong Kong experienced in 2019-2021 - large-scale anti-government protests followed by the introduction of a national security law and electoral overhaul - revealed both centripetal and centrifugal pressures on the model. Whilst there have been numerous studies of the model, I will be the first to draw on comparative experiences of the LII Structure to gain deeper understanding of its strengths and vulnerabilities and how it can potentially be sustained. The project promises both theoretical and practical impact. Theoretically, it will contribute to scholarship on liberal spaces in authoritarian states (focusing on the territorial dimension) and central-local relations (revealing the challenges posed by this type of ideological-territorial cleavage and the potential and limits of various constitutional designs in managing them). Practically, the project will reveal the LII Structure's potential for resolving political disputes. Furthermore, its findings will contribute to understanding of the prospects for sustaining Hong Kong's liberal status under Chinese rule - and ways to strengthen those prospects - as the two jurisdictions enter the second half of the Joint Declaration's 50-year timeframe.
Research Outcome
Layman's Summary of
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