China's Securitization of Hong Kong, Hongkongers and 'One Country, Two Systems': Enemy Images, Moral Panic and Political Warfare


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Daniel Paul GARRETT


Awarding Institution
Award date12 Jan 2017


Drawing on the Copenhagen School’s securitization theory and the concepts of enemy images, moral panic and political warfare, this thesis examines China’s securitization of dissident Hong Kong, Hongkongers and “One Country, Two Systems” (OCTS) through an integrated framework of enemification, moral panic and political war introduced here as OCTS Securitization. Probing the power politics of OCTS manifested through ubiquitous threat discourses, images and narratives articulated between 2010 and 2016, it qualitatively unpacks the wicked problem of China-Hong Kong relations and OCTS. It does so by investigating hegemonic constructions of radical Hongkonger democrats, localists and separatists as mortal enemies of the state and their discursive linkage to the gravest of China’s national security threats (the Three Evils and Three Major Dangers) by demonizing ultra-hardline securitizing actors who have internalized China’s new totalizing national security lens, binary logic, and rhetoric of existential threats and the true friends and enemies of Socialist China. In short, this thesis situates dissident Hong Kong, Hongkongers, OCTS and Chinese-Hongkonger conflicts in the new, post-2012, threat-laden holistic national and geopolitical frameworks of National Security with Chinese Characteristics. In doing so, it brings forward the centrality of the central authorities’ perception of the actual situation in Hong Kong for persisting with OCTS and the cacophonous dissonance between the Political Security of the hegemonic Chinese Communist Party and the Societal Security of subaltern Hongkongers, i.e. the security dilemma of
OCTS, at the core of the OCTS Hongkongers versus Mainlanders sectarian conflict.

It is contended that Chinese and HKSAR authorities have attempted to use OCTS Securitization processes to construct state enemies from political competitors – like radical democrats, localists and separatists – and to remove contentious politicized OCTS issues – such as mainlandization, national education and identity, patriotism, mainland tourism and universal suffrage from public debate – where the authorities have little legitimacy or likelihood of obtaining a consensus through normal politics. By claiming extraordinary existential national security threats to the HKSAR, OCTS, and Socialist China – namely claims of color revolution, Hong Kong independence, peaceful evolution or subversion – and the right to decide the exception in Hong Kong politics, authorities have evoked the national security card in an attempt to force through authoritarian reforms, annihilate radical opposition, obliterate dissent from transgressive Hongkongers, and reverse sovereignty concessions granted to Hongkongers when OCTS was codified and first implemented. Post-2014, OCTS Securitization has become the dominant hegemonic strategy to de-colonize, re-enlighten and re-Sinicize dissident Hong Kong and to remake OCTS and the HKSAR Basic Law under the rubric of Chinese national security. Under this totalitarian security logic, hardline hegemonic actors have reasoned that only after Hongkongers have been de-Westernized and re-Sinicized can Hong Kong ever be truly considered returned, OCTS successfully implemented, China’s new political order governing the HKSAR realized, and the nation safeguarded from the Hongkonger Threat. In the ongoing political war on Hong Kong’s radical democrats, localists and separatists no quarter is to be given: they are to be prevented at all costs – including the end of OCTS – from gaining, or retaining substantive political power in the HKSAR.

Beyond seeking to compel – through political warfare – dissident Hongkongers to accede to Chinese communist domination and regressive, more authoritarian imaginings of OCTS, OCTS Securitization has been used for authoritarian populist agenda setting, deterring local and foreign adversaries, post facto legitimation of extraordinary security moves, divisive mass line patriotic political mobilizations, and the coercion of subaltern movements and uprisings like Occupy Central with Love and Peace, the Umbrella Revolution, Hongkonger localism, and the Hong Kong independence and self-determination movements. As is elucidated in this thesis, post-2012 the dominate prisms through which Chinese and HKSAR authorities perceive and understand dissident Hong Kong, insurgent Hongkongers and OCTS are national security and political struggle lens – not democratization or modernization. In short, dissident Hong Kong, democracy aspiring Westernized Hongkongers, and an insurgent “hijacked” OCTS are seen as arch enemies and critical national security threats to Socialist China and the Chinese Communist Party that must now (post-Occupy/Umbrella) be rectified. In such a Manichean milieu, there is no such thing as genuine universal suffrage, democratization or indigenous Hong Kong democracy: only the Rule of Patriots as a new model of absolute Chinese Communist Party rule of Hong Kong under OCTS in the name of national security.

Constructionist perspectives and qualitative approaches are used to understand the post-2012 securitization of Hong Kong, Hongkongers and OCTS and their implications. It investigates the mediated discursive textual and visual construction of enemy images, moral panic and political warfare between January 2010 and June 2016 – a critical period in the deterioration of China-Hong Kong relations and OCTS. Can OCTS survive under a totalizing national security state that perceives cultural, ideological and political enemies everywhere and anywhere? In what ways has China’s rise and the change in its domestic and geopolitical position affected the securitization of OCTS? How does National Security with Chinese Characteristics and the new forms of cultural, ideological and political war China most fears affect the content and meaning of OCTS? In light of the geopolitical ‘new situation’ can OCTS be retained? What does it mean for OCTS for the HKSAR to be the frontline in Socialist China’s soft war with, or against, the West? What are the OCTS implications of China’s democratization of national security obligations to every citizen (or Chinese), everywhere? Of its new claims of extraterritorially and unrestrained national security reach? Does more Chinese security actually mean more Chinese insecurity under OCTS? Have the hegemonic enemy images, moral panics and political warfare campaigns targeting dissident subalterns become self-fulfilling national security dramas creating the very mortal enemies and existential national security threats they imagined? Is hegemonic rule by Hong Kong via OCTS Securitization radicalizing and mobilizing an already deeply divided, polarized and traumatized society towards an intractable and sectarian conflict? What role, if any, has OCTS Securitization played in the emergence and mainstreaming of Hong Kong independence and self-determination movements? Could the de-securitization of Hongkongers’ national identity, patriotism, sense of belonging and Westernization deescalate China-Hong Kong tensions and save China and Hong Kong and OCTS from future crises, clashes or default?