MACAU (REUTERS, AP) – President Xi Jinping said on Friday (Dec 20) that China would not allow foreign forces to interfere with its special regions of Hong Kong and Macau, as he swore in a new pro-Beijing government for Macau.
Xi, speaking at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of Macau’s handover to Chinese rule, heaped praise on the former Portuguese colony for its patriotism and loyalty, but did not refer directly to the six months of anti-government protests in the nearby former British colony of Hong Kong.
“I must emphasise, since Hong Kong's and Macau’s return to the motherland, dealing with these two Special Administrative Regions’ affairs is entirely China’s internal affairs and none of the business of foreign forces,” Xi said.
“We do not let any external forces interfere.”
Macau returned to Chinese rule on Dec 20, 1999, with the same “one country, two systems” formula aimed at ensuring a high degree of autonomy under which Hong Kong is governed.
While protesters in Hong Kong, across the mouth of the Pearl River, are furious about what they see as Beijing’s erosion of their freedoms, Macau has seen little dissent.
Beijing denies undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and has repeatedly blamed foreign governments, including the United States and Britain, for stirring up trouble in the Asian financial hub.
Xi, wearing a black suit and maroon tie, swore in new Macau Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng and his administration, which will run the enclave of several islands for the next five years.
Under a large Chinese flag and a smaller Macau one, Xi shook hands with Ho, who was selected in August by a largely pro-Beijing committee in a process similar to the way Hong Kong’s leader is chosen.
The 62-year-old businessman read his oath of office in front of Xi at the ceremony on Friday morning.
Both men delivered speeches stressing the importance of the “one country, two systems“ framework.
In his address, Ho pledged improvements to the territory’s administration, infrastructure, transportation and economy, to diversify away from its heavy dependence on the gambling industry.
Xi also encouraged diversification of Macau’s casino-dependent economy, urging it to grasp opportunities brought by a regional investment zone known as the Greater Bay Area.
He also stressed further integration with the mainland, although he did not announce any specific steps.
Officials and corporate executives have been expecting Beijing to reward Macau for its loyalty – in contrast to the defiance on the streets of Hong Kong – with measures including a new yuan-denominated stock exchange.
Xi said Macau’s patriotism was “the most important reason” for the success of its “one country, two systems formula of governance”.
He said China would be unwavering in the defence of its sovereignty.
“The will of the Chinese government and the Chinese people to safeguard national sovereignty, security and interest in development is rock solid,” Xi said. “The forward steps of the Chinese nation’s rejuvenation are unstoppable.”
Xi said he was pleased that Macau had implemented national security legislation, unlike Hong Kong which has yet to do so because of widespread opposition.
Residents of Macau enjoyed “law-based rights, freedoms” in one of the world’s safest cities where people “rationally”expressed different views, he said.
Macau has been decked out for the anniversary with flags and red banners over schools, office towers and draped along roads. But security and border controls have been on lockdown for Xi’s three-day visit, which ends on Friday, to prevent any spillover of dissent from Hong Kong.
Journalists, activists and even the heads of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong were barred from entering the city in the run-up the visit. Macau authorities have not commented on the issue. Transport services were restricted with operators citing security concerns.
More than half of Macau’s population of 620,000 immigrated from China in recent decades which has helped foster more affinity for the mainland than in Hong Kong, where most people were born in the territory.
Millions of dollars have been spent on Chinese government-linked youth associations that encourage study on the mainland.
Xi said he hoped Macau would establish more patriotic associations to “perfect” governance and ensure stability and prosperity.