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SUMMERS, Tim. 2021. China’s Hong Kong: The Politics of a Global City. 2nd ed. Newcastle: Agenda Publishing.

Boyang Su
p. 88-89

Full text

1There has been a growing tendency to frame the discussion of developments in Hong Kong almost by default within a framework of “Beijing vis-à-vis Hong Kong” – or indeed of Beijing’s unilateral tightening of its grip on the city. Such a simplification, as Tim Summers points out, is “a misleading or at least partial interpretation of what is going on in Hong Kong” (p. 97). From this perspective, therefore, in his timely and concise monograph, Summers suggests that the ways to approach, conduct research on, and write about past, present, and future developments in Hong Kong need a rethink. He begins by laying out the book’s title – China’s Hong Kong: The Politics of a Global Citywhich perfectly reflects his proposition that the Hong Kong story is a negotiation between the local, the national, and the global.

2The book consists of a carefully presented introduction and seven main chapters. After setting out the overall argument of the book – that insightful analysis of Hong Kong from 1997 to mid-2020 should locate the development of the city’s mutually involved politics and economics within the rapidly changing political and economic realm of China, which, in turn, has been “infused by the influence of global developments” (p. 6) – in the introductory chapter, Summers zeroes in on a historical reconstruction of pre-handover Hong Kong in Chapter One, where he makes a convincing point that Hong Kong’s history has always been shaped by the complex confluence of global, Chinese, and local forces, each of which has changed dramatically across time in terms of nature and salience. Chapters Two and Three deal with the increasing interweaving of Hong Kong politics and economics, in which Summers presents Hong Kong’s burgeoning economic symbiosis with China as a double-edged sword. While it has somehow compensated for the city’s vulnerability to “the vagaries of the global economy” (p. 74) and raised its competitiveness as an international financial centre, the concomitant massive flows of people and capital from mainland China have sharpened Hong Kong’s latent socioeconomic disparities and have further brought to the surface the contradictions and ambiguities of the “one country, two systems” (OCTS) principle concerning the question of democracy. The result is an increasingly fragmented and polarised city that has created concern in Beijing over national territorial integrity, resulting in breaches of the promise of “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong.” However, Summers argues, these should be seen as responses to rising political challenges in Hong Kong rather than as a change in the fundamental goals Beijing has for Hong Kong, which have consistently been in the order of sovereignty, stability, and prosperity.

3Chapter Four details the Umbrella Movement, which, according to Summers, led to a grand-scale political awakening of Hongkongers, strengthened commitment to democracy, and gave rise to radical “localism” that further polarised the political parties and politicalised the wider society. Chapter Five then goes on to point out that global interest in Hong Kong’s politics has been increasingly dominated by accusations of Beijing being the culprit behind Hong Kong’s ills. One practical result of this is the exemption of Hong Kong actors themselves from contributing to the problems facing the city and the deepening of Beijing’s paranoia in seeing Hong Kong as the pawn of “black hands” (p. 124) seeking to undermine China’s national security and integrity. Summers therefore suggests that foreign forces should focus on “what might actually happen and what is possible” (p. 126) in Hong Kong, and that one possible starting point is to recognise the fact that OCTS might be the best possible option for the city today.

4In the two final chapters, Summers answers the question of whether Hong Kong is doomed. He contends that the key lies in Hong Kong itself. The city should start by reducing the pernicious fragmentation and polarisation of its politics to make room for compromise, interaction, and tolerance between the populace and ruling authorities. This, however, requires “a realistic, nuanced and open-minded response” (p. 168) from Hongkongers toward the growing complexity and diversity of China. They need to accept the fact that Hong Kong is now – on every level – part of China, and that the city’s future is closely intertwined with that of China, whose trajectory is even more unpredictable and shaped by global developments. Certainly, Hong Kong is expected to increasingly extend its engagement with China on all fronts, and this should not simply be translated into the assumption that Hong Kong will become “just another Chinese city” (p. 170). As Summers himself firmly believes, Hong Kong is more than that, with its own distinctive features – “history, institutional strengths, global linkages and the dynamism of its people” (p. 145) – on which a bright future can be built.

5As can be seen, the book convincingly spells out the situation in Hong Kong from the handover to mid-2020. One limitation of the book is a deficiency in novel theoretical and empirical data development. Indeed, the proposal of interpreting developments in Hong Kong as a complicated interplay between localism, nationalism, and globalism is also nothing new. But recently this has been played down by an increasing fascination with framing almost any discussion of Hong Kong exclusively in terms of a hardening China. The result is publications that consist of little more than efforts to cater to the “China threat” narrative instead of providing fair and comprehensive accounts of what is going on in Hong Kong. Thus, the real substance of Summers’s volume revolves around its academic neutrality – the attempt to go beyond the dominant “Beijing vis-à-vis Hong Kong” framework in Hong Kong studies at a point in time when Hong Kong has been generally treated as a “bridgehead” for accusing China of threatening democracy, freedom, and world peace. Of course, Summers is not the first icebreaker, but he again sounds the alarm that only such neutrality will allow for a rational tackling of important political, moral, and intellectual issues concerning Hong Kong. In the book, Summers does leave some stones unturned, and it would be excellent to see him push further on some universal issues – in particular, what is perhaps the key issue in Hong Kong and even in the world today, identity, and how this works at the local, national, and global levels. For this reason, China’s Hong Kong will serve as inspiration for future scholars while remaining a comprehensive guide for those interested in a changing Hong Kong and the wider set of political and economic developments in China and the rest of the world.

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Bibliographical reference

Boyang Su, “SUMMERS, Tim. 2021. China’s Hong Kong: The Politics of a Global City. 2nd ed. Newcastle: Agenda Publishing.”China Perspectives, 133 | -1, 88-89.

Electronic reference

Boyang Su, “SUMMERS, Tim. 2021. China’s Hong Kong: The Politics of a Global City. 2nd ed. Newcastle: Agenda Publishing.”China Perspectives [Online], 133 | 2023, Online since 01 June 2023, connection on 30 September 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Boyang Su

Boyang Su is a PhD candidate in the Lau China Institute at King’s College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, United Kingdom (

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