Chinese President Xi Jinping to lead Macau handover party as Hong Kong seethes

An image of Chinese President Xi Jinping is displayed on a screen during the "Passion of Macau, Heart of China" variety show in Macau on Dec 19, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

MACAU (AFP) - Macau on Friday (Dec 20) marks 20 years since the former colony was returned to China with a celebration led by Chinese President Xi Jinping touting the success of the pliant gambling hub while Hong Kong boils.

The day's festivities will centre around the inauguration of a new leader for a city that China views as a shining example of its "one country, two systems" model.

Mr Ho Iat Seng, a former member of China's top lawmaking body, won a one-horse race this summer to become Macau's new chief executive - a position that is chosen by a 400-member committee stacked with Beijing loyalists.

Among those to attend the inauguration is his Hong Kong counterpart Carrie Lam, who currently boasts record low approval ratings and has struggled to end six months of huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.

Since the 1999 handover by Portugal, Macau has witnessed little of the dissent that has exploded in Hong Kong and has become hugely wealthy thanks to being the only place in China where gambling is allowed.

Throughout his three-day visit, Mr Xi has lavished praise on Macau's leaders and its comparative political calm.

"If the family lives in harmony, all affairs will prosper," he told delegates at a banquet on Thursday evening in which he listed a series of accomplishments he said Macau had excelled at.

"Loving the motherland as well as Macau has become a core value across society," he said adding that the city had "rejected all sorts of disturbance from the outside."


Although Mr Xi avoided all mention of Hong Kong in his speech, the message was clear.

China has repeatedly portrayed Hong Kong's huge protests as a foreign-backed colour revolution designed to destabilise the motherland, rejecting any suggestion Hong Kongers have legitimate political grievances.

Macau long ago passed the kind of mainland style anti-sedition laws that have been bitterly opposed for years in Hong Kong and protests are rare in the city where half the 700,000 strong population come from the mainland.

Multiple Hong Kong journalists were refused entry to Macau for the anniversary celebrations.

Mr Xi remarked on the passage of the national security laws in his speech on Thursday evening and noted that the Chinese national anthem and flags were routinely used with pride in Macau.

In contrast, Hong Kongers often boo the national anthem at football matches while Chinese flags have become a frequent target for pro-democracy protesters, fuelling outrage in Beijing.

When Mr Xi made a visit to Hong Kong in 2017 for the city's own handover celebrations, he delivered a tough speech warning that any challenges to the authority of the central government was a "red line and absolutely impermissible".

Since four centuries of Portuguese rule ended, Macau's fortunes have risen in lockstep with China's huge economic growth.

The skyline and economy have changed beyond recognition with glittering casinos raking in each week what Las Vegas collects in a month.

Macau's GDP has soared from US$6.4 billion in 1999 to more than US$55 billion (S$74.5 billion) while per capita GDP is the third highest in the world behind Luxembourg and Switzerland.

But there is a huge rich-poor divide and almost all its economic chips are in the gambling basket.

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