The Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong

John P. Burns

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leads and manages governance in China, a rising geopolitical and economic superpower. The party is organized territorially throughout the country, including in local jurisdictions like the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. However, because of Hong Kong’s recent past as a British colony, the party operates differently there than on the mainland. Understanding these differences sheds light on the operation of the CCP as the leading institution in the world’s largest country. The paper drills down into the history, organization, and functions of the local party in Hong Kong and its relationship to the central party and government in Beijing.

During the British colonial period, the CCP in Hong Kong operated “underground” and continues to do so in some sense, although, since 2020, the party has assumed more direct political leadership of the Hong Kong government. The leadership of policymaking in Hong Kong policies now falls to the most senior party officials in China, indicating Hong Kong’s place in the central party’s understanding of the country’s security. As a consequence of six months of increasingly violent anti-government protests in Hong Kong in 2019, the party expanded its institutional footprint there, focusing on security and institutional change.  Still, party membership in Hong Kong lags the mainland. Accordingly, the party in Hong Kong has so far been unable to call on the deeply penetrating network of party members and organizations found in most Chinese cities. The party is engaged in a battle for the hearts and minds of the people of Hong Kong in a relatively open environment that includes access to global media and the internet. This situation challenges the party to cement control in this global financial center.