Chinese premier Li Keqiang gives Macau his seal of approval

In what some see as a message to Hong Kong, prime minister speaks of ‘new measures and policies’ that will help diversify gaming hub’s economy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 October, 2016, 11:11pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 1:42am

Premier Li Keqiang heaped praise on Hong Kong’s sister special administrative region on Monday, hailing Macau as a “treasured lotus land, a beautiful and special place” as he began a landmark three-day visit to the casino-dominated city.

Security was tight for the occasion, which also saw the arrival of Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa and a host of top political leaders from Africa and South America for a two-day international conference beginning on Tuesday.

The meeting aims to boost China’s economic relationship with the developing world and chart a new course for the world’s most cash-rich gaming hub.

A delegation led by the city’s Chief Executive Fernando Chiu Sai-on, his predecessor Edmund Ho Hau-wah and Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, greeted Li on the tarmac of Macau International Airport on Monday morning.

Macau: the rise and fall of an empire

In bright sunshine, Li – on his first-ever visit to Macau – delivered a speech full of praise for a city at a crossroads as it tries to cope with the reality of its first-ever, full-blown gaming slump, while at the same time attempting to diversify its casino-dominated economy into other areas.

Macau is simultaneously attempting to reshape its gaming industry into a mass-market, Las Vegas-style tourism attraction after decades as a hardcore casino hub for high-rolling VIP gamblers.

Without giving details, Premier Li said there would be “new measures and policies” to favour Macau, aimed at making “better use of its position as a world centre of tourism and leisure and a commercial and trade cooperation service platform” between China and the world’s Portuguese-speaking countries.

Li went on to say that Macau was a “treasured lotus land, a beautiful and special place ... in particular, a place that was successfully implementing the principle of ‘one country, two systems’.”

The premier and his Portuguese counterpart will attend the opening ceremony of the 5th Ministerial Conference of the Forum for Economic and Trade Co-operation between China and Portuguese-speaking Countries on Tuesday.

[Macau is a] treasured lotus land, a beautiful and special place
Premier Li Keqiang

Li’s three-day visit will also include meetings with people from across the local community, but his key intention in attending the forum is to impress upon the people of Macau and the wider world that Beijing is committed to pushing diversification in the city and making it a platform for the country’s global engagement, a strategy Beijing has named its “Centre and Platform” policy.

Sources have told the Post that the visit could see the announcement of plans for Macau to become a key centre for yuan settlement, turning the city into a clearing house for huge investment deals with other countries.

The importance Beijing is giving the visit is also seen in some quarters as a message to Hong Kong about the benefits of cooperation amid ongoing political turmoil in the bigger special administrative region.

Shortly after Li arrived in Macau nine members of Hong Kong’s League of Social Democrats and People Power, including lawmaker-elect “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, were denied entry to the city. They were then detained for around seven hours at the ferry terminal before they were sent back to Hong Kong.

Two Post journalists sent to cover Li’s Macau visit were also detained along with Leung’s group, despite their press credentials, and later released.