At the ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of Macau’s handover to China from Portuguese rule, Xi praised the city’s loyalty and patriotism, making no direct mention of the ongoing protests challenging Beijing’s authority in the former British colony of Hong Kong.
Instead, he lauded Macau as an exemplary model of the “one country two systems” model that also rules Hong Kong, saying the territories need to have “firm faith” in the system. Under the formula, the regime had promised a high level of freedom and political autonomy to the two regions.
Xi also swore in the new pro-Beijing leader for Macau, Ho Iat Seng, who was elected to office uncontested in August.
“I want to stress again that since the return of Hong Kong and Macau, handling of these two special administrative regions is entirely China’s internal affairs and none of the business of external forces,” Xi said in a speech at the ceremony.
“The will of the Chinese government and Chinese people to defend national sovereignty, security, and development interest is rock solid,” he said.
Soon after Xi concluded his three-day visit to Macau, China’s banking and insurance regulator on Friday announced a series of measures to strengthen financial ties between the territory and the mainland. The policies included encouraging Macanese to set up mainland bank accounts, and mainland insurance funds to invest in Macau.
Hong Kong Delegates
Xi also met a group of Hong Kong officials on Thursday, during which he expressed “full approval” of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam for her “courage and sense of responsibility” during “the unusual times,” according to state-controlled media Xinhua.
The outlet said Xi “fully supports” Lam’s administration, echoing his support for her handling of the protests during a meeting between the two earlier in the week in Beijing.
At a televised evening banquet on Friday, Xi took center stage to lead a sing-along of the patriotic song “Ode to the Motherland.” Officials including Lam were seen clapping and swaying in unison. Lam Siu-por, Lam’s husband, stood out as the only person not clapping along, a move that many saw as a show of defiance. The video has gone viral on the internet.
Carrie Lam’s husband, Lam Siu-por, refuses to join singing the Chinese National Anthem with his wife and other Hong Kong top government officials, during Xi Jinping’s current visit in Macau. pic.twitter.com/E98pM73cn3
— The Epoch Times Hong Kong (@EpochTimesHK) December 20, 2019
While Lam’s husband and two sons are British citizens, Lam renounced her British nationality in 2007 in order to take up a post in the Hong Kong government.
A petition requesting the U.K. government revoke the citizenship of Lam’s family has drawn over 391,500 signatures at the time of the publication.
Macau vs. Hong Kong
Macau, unlike its neighboring city of Hong Kong, has been eager to demonstrate its alignment with Beijing.
The local administration is set to implement a new cybersecurity law on Dec. 22, requiring mobile users to register their SIM cards with their real name, prompting concerns of growing government surveillance. In the mainland, all users are required to undergo a face scan and provide a valid ID and personal information to open a new phone account.
The Macau government has been installing surveillance cameras around the city since 2016 as part of the “Eye in the Sky” program. The cameras incorporate artificial intelligence such as facial recognition technology and car license plate reading capabilities. The authorities plan to have at least 1,620 surveillance cameras by 2020, and 4,200 by 2028.
Macau has also passed a controversial anti-subversion law to criminalize activities that fall under the categories of treason, secession, and subversion, and acts by “foreign political organizations or groups” found to be “endangering national security.”
A Hong Kong version of the legislation was dropped due to public pressure in 2003, after half a million locals took to the streets in protest, anxious that the law could curtail Hongkongers’ basic freedoms.
‘Carrot and Stick’
Fitch Ratings, in its most recent assessment, downgraded Macau’s outlook from “stable” to “negative” citing its growing convergence with the mainland.
“Over the 20 years of frog boiling, Macanese’s lives today have become no different from the mainland,” U.S.-based China commentator Tang Jingyuan told NTD, an affiliate of The Epoch Times.
Responding to Xi’s praise of the success of the Macau model, U.S.-based China analyst Chen Pokong said that the Chinese regime has a different standard than the Western world.
“The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] has wielded an iron grip on Macau,” he told NTD. “You have to be the good baby … listen to and follow the Party, this is the success [they are talking about].”
Tang summarized the regime’s strategy in Macau as “the CCP pretty much gave out a handful of money in exchange for your human rights.”
“It’s the idea of ‘carrot and stick’—they give you some carrots when they need you, but when they no longer do, they might use the stick,” he added.