State leader’s lavish praise of ‘patriotic’ Macau is not lost on Hong Kong

NPC chairman Zhang Dejiang makes a pointed reference to the casino city’s success in ‘safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 May, 2017, 3:59pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 May, 2017, 5:45am

China’s No 3 official heaped praise on Macau for its patriotism, pragmatism, and regard for national security, holding up the former Portuguese enclave as an example to Hong Kong on how to meet Beijing’s expectations.

Zheng Dejiang did not specifically name Hong Kong on Tuesday, but his remarks and unprecedented visit to Macau’s legislature were widely seen as a deliberate contrast with the state of affairs in the more troubled of the two cities, which enjoy greater autonomy as special administrative regions of China.

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On the second day of his visit, the chairman of the National People’s Congress and state leader overseeing Hong Kong and Macau affairs said the casino city had made great strides in protecting the nation’s sovereignty and unity, and called for the development of political talent.

Addressing more than 100 representatives from various sectors, Zhang gave a 38-minute speech featuring three key pieces of advice: Macau must “cherish its experience; strengthen its foundations; and foster development”.

Zhang praised Macau for “effectively safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests”. He was referring to the city’s success in enacting its own national security legislation under Article 23 of its mini-constitution, or Basic Law, in 2009.

In stark contrast, after shelving its own relevant legislation in 2003 due to overwhelming public fears that freedoms would be curtailed, Hong Kong has yet to decide whether to start again.

“In a meeting between President Xi Jinping and Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on in December last year, the president said Macau … set an example on safeguarding national security and unity,” Zhang noted.

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Xi’s remarks came after two newly elected pro-independence lawmakers in Hong Kong distorted their oath-taking to insult China in October last year. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying took them to court to have them stripped of their seats while the NPC issued an interpretation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law to make such offences punishable by disqualification.

Zhang also said Macau’s focus on its “one country, two systems” governing policy – the same model that applies to Hong Kong – social unity and patriotism had contributed to its success since the city’s handover to Chinese sovereignty in December 1999.

“Its government has been self-conscious in coordinating with the implementation of Beijing’s comprehensive jurisdiction,” Zhang said.

He also lauded Macau’s legislature and executive branch for “checking and balancing, but more importantly, working with each other”.

He just made use of the occasion to send a message for Hongkongers
Au Kam-san, Macau opposition lawmaker

On promoting development, Zhang warned against not letting problems get out of hand: “Macau is a small place with a small population; there must not be chaos, and you cannot afford it.”

Macau people should pass on their “strong sense of national identity” to the next generation. He advised them to groom political talent for the future of their city, cautioning that a current shortage of skilled politicians had become a “major shortcoming that hinders the sustainable development of the city”.

After the speech, Zhang met the city’s lawmakers, marking the first time that a state leader had visited Macau’s legislature since its handover.

The government quoted him as telling the legislature: “Lawmakers must stick to their oath ... insist on rational discussion, and reject filibustering and resorting to violence.”

In sharp contrast, Zhang did not visit Hong Kong’s Legislative Council during his trip to the city a year ago.

He also paid an unprecedented visit to Macau’s Court of Final Appeal to meet its top judge and prosecutor, among other judicial officials.

Au Kam-san, one Macau’s few opposition lawmakers, said Zhang advised them during a 10-minute speech at the Legislative Assembly to “stick to their oath, and not to resort to filibustering or violence”.

“He just made use of the occasion to send a message for Hongkongers,” Au said.

Sulu Sou Ka-hou, vice-president of the pro-democracy New Macau Association, held a demonstration at a protest zone hundreds of metres away from the legislature. He said Beijing needed to understand that political reform would help curb governance problems and corruption.

In Hong Kong, former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said: “Things achieved in Macau do not always work in Hong Kong. So we don’t need to have any negative thoughts just because Beijing officials expressed satisfaction with Macau.”