The Debate on Constitutional Standing and Greater Autonomy for Cities: Lessons from (and for) the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macao

2022, Ngoc Son Bui, Stuart Hargreaves, and Ryan Mitchell (eds), The Routledge Handbook on The Constitutional Law of Greater China (Forthcoming, Routledge:Taylor and Francis)

25 Pages Posted: 26 Oct 2021 Last revised: 15 Jun 2022

Date Written: October 21, 2021

Abstract

The last few decades have seen a global boom in urban agglomeration due to improved economic opportunities. In the early 1900s, only 10% of the world’s population lived in cities, compared to approximately 50% today. It is estimated that this will increase to 70% by 2050.

Despite being major population hubs and dominant economic players, cities are noticeably absent from national constitutions. They are typically creatures of the federal or provincial government and depend on these political units for their functioning and existence. Because of this reality, it is argued that constitutionalism may become irrelevant to a large share of a countries population if cities are left unaddressed. Without constitutional standing and greater autonomy, it is believed that cities are unable to address issues such as income inequality, housing, population density, immigration, environment, etc. Their lack of autonomy and constitutional standing also makes them susceptible to corporate capture.

In recent years, a commonly proposed response has been to overhaul the existing statist framework by emancipating cities and providing them with constitutional standing and greater autonomy. These suggestions have not been limited to academic circles but have also been the focus of political and social discussions in both Global South and Global North countries. While this may seem like a straightforward fix, very few examples exist to assist us in envisioning this alternative reality. Even in cases where some cities have constitutional standing and/or considerable autonomy, this was typically granted by federal or provincial governments to further specific economic-political agendas or administrative ease. In these cases, the federal or provincial government dictates the terms, not the constitution. None of these examples are centered on the constitutional recognition of cities as an autonomous or distinct government order. The statist system is still intact.

Constitutionalism in Greater China is seen as a niche subfield by traditional constitutionalists and rarely enters broader global discussions. However, Greater China’s experience with the Special Administrative Regions (SARs) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) – Hong Kong SAR (HKSAR) and Macao SAR (MSR) – and the ‘one country, two system’ principle defining their governance structure – has more to contribute to the emerging debate of cities’ constitutional autonomy than any other case study.

Consequently, this chapter will examine the debate on constitutional standing and greater autonomy for cities using the cases of HKSAR and MSAR with a view to drawing lessons from them (and for framing future discussions on the SARs autonomy as well).

Keywords: Constitutional Law, Comparative Constitutional Law, City, Federalism, Mega City, Subsidarity, Macao, Autonomy, Special Administrative Regions, Greater China

Suggested Citation

Sethi, Amal, The Debate on Constitutional Standing and Greater Autonomy for Cities: Lessons from (and for) the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macao (October 21, 2021). 2022, Ngoc Son Bui, Stuart Hargreaves, and Ryan Mitchell (eds), The Routledge Handbook on The Constitutional Law of Greater China (Forthcoming, Routledge:Taylor and Francis), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3947304 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3947304

Amal Sethi (Contact Author)

University of Hamburg ( email )

Rothenbaumchaussee 33
Hamburg, 20148
Germany

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