Property Assemblage

Yip, M.

Property assemblage, urban developmentalism and democratic struggle in East Asia


The 4th Workshop on the Geopolitical Economy of East Asian Developmentalism
Osaka City University
Osaka, Japan

A city is an assemblage of property. For Western liberal democracies, states guarantee and protect individuals’ rights to property, even with legitimate force, within their territories. Failure to protect property rights from violence leads to governance and legitimacy crises. Yet, the heterogeneous complexities of East Asia, that both the emerging democracies and the established authoritarian regimes co-exist, complicate these conceptual premises. This article outlines some conceptual propositions for empirical investigations on struggles for democratisation in the developmentalist East Asia, bridging legal geography and geopolitical economy. It starts by associating property with territorialisation. Property comprises abstract ideas, and its materiality must be performed and enacted through concrete practices and enrolments to territorialise space. Violence is central to those property practices, and hence concerns East Asian urban developmentalism and democratisation. I illustrate with the recent anti-extradition struggles in Hong Kong, the largest governance crisis this city under Chinese sovereignty has ever faced. To explore how these struggles challenge the distinguishable form of urban developmentalism in Hong Kong, I argue they, which must be situated in broader geopolitical economy contexts of China, East Asia and the globe, are concerned with property. While the government condemns the protests for jeopardising the global standing of this prosper, safe and stable city, such protests reveal the uncertainty, instability and insecurity of property. Extraditing across frontiers, policing violently infringes property rights and neglecting citizens’ demands reflect the prolonged state violence against urban inhabitants’ property rights in an authoritarian society, shedding light on East Asian transformation.