Macau leader says he will seek new ways to grow economy

Chinese President Xi Jinping (2nd right) waves to children waving Chinese national flags and the flag of Macau, as Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-On watches, after Xi arrived in Macau to celebrate the 15th anniversary of its handover to the
Chinese President Xi Jinping (2nd right) waves to children waving Chinese national flags and the flag of Macau, as Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-On watches, after Xi arrived in Macau to celebrate the 15th anniversary of its handover to the mainland on Dec 19, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Macau leader Fernando Chui told Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday that he would try to diversify Macau's casino-dependent economy, which has been hit by the most aggressive anti-graft campaign in China in decades.

Mr Xi, in Macau to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the handover of the former Portuguese colony to Chinese rule, said the world's largest gambling centre "still faces difficulties and challenges that must be properly managed". He did not elaborate.

Mr Xi's pervasive anti-graft campaign contributed to a disastrous year for major casino companies, which have lost a combined US$58 billion (S$69 billion) in market value over the past six months as VIPs stayed away.

Once a paradise for Chinese government officials and rich businessmen to flaunt their wealth and indulge themselves with private jets and sumptuous hotel suites, Macau is now seen by many to be a pathway for extracting money from China.

"We will continue to focus on economic development and improving people's livelihood and actively promote the appropriate diversification of the economy," Mr Chui told Mr Xi, according to the Xinhua state news agency.

Mr Chui, who will be sworn in for his second, five-year term on Saturday, said he hoped to "achieve the sustainable development of Macau".

Mr Xi said the important issue for Macau for some time to come was "how it can make greater progress on the basis of its achievements in the last 15 years and maintain long-term prosperity and stability", according to Xinhua.

Mr Xi's visit comes as gambling revenues for Macau in 2014 are expected to drop for the first time since casinos were liberalised over a decade ago.

Wealthy high-roller gamblers have increasingly steered clear of Macau, on the mouth of China's Pearl River delta, unnerved by increased scrutiny over the gaming industry as Mr Xi's anti-graft drive shows no signs of let-up.

Macau has been held up as a good example of the "one country two systems model" under which both it and Hong Kong came under Chinese rule after Hong Kong was roiled recently by pro-democracy protests for nearly three months.

Separately, Mr Xi said he had "full confidence" in Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying, who is also in Macau for the inauguration ceremony. "The central government will, as always, support you and the SAR government in your work," Mr Xi told Leung, according to Xinhua. Hong Kong is termed a Special Administrative Region of China.