AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 666

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Session 666: Local Autonmy and Social Policy in Greater China

Organizer: Shiu-Hing (Sonny) Lo, Hong Kong Institute of Education, Hong Kong

Chair: Anthony B. L. Cheung, Hong Kong Institute of Education, Hong Kong

Discussant: Ming K. Chan, Stanford University, USA

The emergence of autonomy in local governments in the Greater China--Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau--has given rise to the formulation and implementation of various social policies that attempt to address the demands and concerns of the local residents. The cases of four cities--Hangzhou, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), the Macau Special Administrative Region (MSAR), and the Zhuhai Special Economic Zone (SEZ)--are used to study the degree of local autonomy in formulating and implementing social policies, such as welfare benefits, pension scheme, medical care, language policy, and the minimum wage for workers. In Mainland China, the city of Hangzhou provides an example for us to assess the extent of migrants’ accessibility to medical and pension insurance. Local autonomy in formulating medical and pension schemes is critical to the maintenance of social stability in Hangzhou. The case of Hangzhou's social protection package can be compared and contrasted with the HKSAR, MSAR and the Zhuhai SEZ. The Asian financial crisis in 1997-98 and the recent global financial crisis in 2008 have heightened public expectations on the local governments of Hong Kong and Macau to improve various social protection schemes. With a relatively high degree of autonomy in coping with domestic social welfare issues, the governments of Hong Kong and Macau are encountering the challenge of changing their philosophy of social welfare in assisting those who suffer from poverty and adverse socio-economic transformations. This panel includes four papers that addresses the relationships between local autonomy, local governance and the implementation of social policies in the mainland cities of Hangzhou and Zhuhai and the capitalist SARs of Hong Kong and Macau.

Bill K. P. Chou, University of Macau, Macau

This paper offers an analytical framework to evaluate the autonomy of Hong Kong and Macau in relation to Beijing. When autonomy is viewed from a top-down approach with an objective that is transferrable, it can be cautiously concluded that the autonomy of Hong Kong and Macau is low, given that Beijing has no constitutional and legal constraints to remove the “high autonomy” framed by one-country two-system formula. From a bottom-up perspective which defines autonomy as the space of expressing local identity and adopting local ways in public administration, Hong Kong and Macau are conferred with high autonomy. Both Cantonese and former colonial languages (English in Hong Kong and Portuguese and Macao) are still widely used in public administration. The highest public offices are reserved for local people and the party organizations remain low profile in politics. In Macau, non-Chinese passport holders are not discriminated in public offices. The Portuguese laws which have been extended to Macau before the handover of sovereignty continue to be applicable. The cultural identity of Christianity is free from the state’s suppression. Hong Kong and Macau manifest the co-existence of high autonomy in expressing and developing local identity with the Center’s tight political control. Some substances of Beijing’s policies on Hong Kong and Macau may be extended to its peripheral territories which have difficulty in identifying with the political centre and whose cultural identities were felt marginalized.

Migrants’ Rights to Welfare Entitlement: A Case Study of Medical and Pension Insurance for Migrants in Hangzhou, China
Ka Wai Maggie Lau, Hong Kong Institute of Education, Hong Kong

Labour migration is a phenomenon integral to China’s economic prosperity but is inextricably intertwined with challenges to, and opportunity for, its social development. Migration not only plays a pivotal role in boosting urban economic development but also mitigates the problem of surplus rural labour in the place of origin. Nonetheless, the vast majority of peasant migrants are in inferior social and economic positions compared to urban residents. Under the dualistic household registration system, rural migrants are excluded from access to public services in the cities where entitlements exist only for those with urban hukou. Exclusion of rural migrants from urban health, education, housing and social security systems is a key obstacle to attaining social development in China. The deepening of the market-oriented reforms in the 1990s has adversely affected the balance between economic development and social equality. There is a mounting concern over how to achieve a fair and competitive society so as to maintain the social cohesion in China. This paper sets out against the context outlined above to assess the extent of migrants’ accessibility to medical and pension insurance in Hangzhou, the capital city of Zhejiang province and a province receiving a massive number of migrants. More specifically, the paper attempts to investigate the extent to which the local government in Hangzhou implements policy reform addressing migrants’ entitlement to welfare.

Labor Policy and Minimum Wage for Workers in Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai
Shiu-Hing (Sonny) Lo, Hong Kong Institute of Education, Hong Kong

The plight of the working class has become prominent since the outbreak of the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98 and the onset of the global financial turmoil in 2008. The governments of Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai have tried to protect the welfare and interest of workers through the reform of their labour policies. The case of Hong Kong in July 2010 showed that the minimum wage policy was approved by the Legislative Council. It followed mainland China’s new Workers’ Employment Law in 2009, when the mainland government was determined to protect the interest of the working class. The case of Zhuhai was no exception as the city and its neighbours, such as Dongguan, gradually witness the rising demands of the workers to improve their salaries and benefits. The local business in the Pearl River Delta region, including factory owners from Hong Kong and Taiwan, complained about the impact of the Workers’ Employment Law on their businesses. Similarly, when the minimum wage issue was raised in Hong Kong, the business sector expressed their grave concern about their profits. Macau encountered a similar phenomenon in July 2010 following the Hong Kong enactment of the minimum wage law. Amidst the rapid process of economic integration, Zhuhai, Hong Kong, and increasingly Macau have to implement and consider better labour protection policies. This paper aims at comparing and contrasting the emergence of labour policies formulated by the local governments in Greater China to respond to the demands and concerns of the working-class citizens.