CSR Volume 7: Interview with Tracey Fung

By Moe Pwint Phyu

Tracey Fung’s article, “Declining Political Power of Hong Kong’s Capitalists: Unraveling Patron-Client Networks within the News Media Industry,” is featured in Volume 7 of the SAIS China Studies Review. Below she talks with online editor Moe Phyu about her background, her piece in the CSR, and the future of the media ecosystem in Hong Kong.

MP: What is your concentration at SAIS? What is your primary research interest?

TF: My concentrations at SAIS are in International Economics and China Studies, with a specialization in International Finance. My research interests are, broadly, in China’s financial system as well as the political economy of Hong Kong. 

MP: What inspired your interest in researching the media system in Hong Kong?

TF: Initially, I was researching the clientelistic relationship between influential businesspeople and the HKSAR government after reading about the role of businesses in obstructing democratic reforms prior to the Handover in 1997. I found the politics of the different social classes in the pre-Handover era to be very fascinating — for example, how businesses were generally pro-establishment, while teachers, lawyers, journalists, and members of the working class were for democratic reforms. Later on in my research, I found that the media industry provided a great case study to explore patron-clientelism in Hong Kong due to the industry’s strong influence over public opinion and the fact that the majority of the industry is owned by a handful of well-known businesspeople with government ties.

MP: What do you hope CSR readers take away from your piece?

TF: I hope to provide a different perspective on the political economy of Hong Kong for CSR readers, one that focuses on internal politics as opposed to presenting Hong Kong as a site of external conflict between China and the US. 

MP: What do you think of the future of the media ecosystem in Hong Kong? How does it relate to freedom of speech?

TF: With the acquisition of SCMP and TVB by mainland businesspeople, it is possible that many more such acquisitions will occur, particularly as traditional media is experiencing declining profits due to competition with digital media platforms. Local owners of media groups may look to sell their assets to mainland buyers as they see less political and economic benefits gained from holding onto their stake in the media industry. Meanwhile, the widespread adoption of digital media could be a positive thing for Hong Kongers as this diversifies their news sources.

MP: Would the deteriorating patron-client relationship between business elites and the national government incentivize business elite to side with pro-democracy?

TF: While my research has found that business elites are seeing declining benefits from their relationship with the central and HKSAR governments, it does not make sense for them to side with the pro-democracy camp and there is little incentive for them to do so. Since the introduction of the National Security Law in 2020, the HSKAR government has not been shy about using the law as a means to intimidate pro-yellow businesses, such as in a recent case where a shop owned by a known pro-democracy activist was raided on the justification that their imported items were mislabeled and violated customs laws. 

Tracey Fung is a second-year M.A. candidate in International Economics and China Studies, with a specialization in International Finance. Prior to SAIS, she earned her B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley and has worked in economic development and impact investing. She is interested in the political economy of Hong Kong, in addition to China’s overseas development activities. Tracey can be reached at fung.tracey@gmail.com.

Moe Pwint Phyu is a first-year HNC certificate/SAIS MA student from Yangon, Myanmar. Moe gained hands-on experience in copyediting and curating content through her Master’s degree in Global Business Journalism at Tsinghua University, Beijing where she spent two years. While studying, she also worked as an intern at two ENGOs, researching the environmental impact of Chinese overseas investment in developing countries. Moe earned her undergraduate degree in Chinese Language and Literature from Middlebury College in Vermont. She is disappointed in herself that she does not like the quintessential Beijing street food- jianbing. Moe can be reached at lily.moepwint@gmail.com.

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