Covid-19 response, diversification and GBA main focus at national sessions – Local delegates

Local delegates attending this year’s sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) told Macau News Agency that the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic will be an unavoidable topic, but the delegation will also delve into future Macau SAR economic diversification efforts and better integration in the Greater Bay Area (GBA).

After a postponement of almost two months due to the pandemic, hundreds of delegates will finally meet at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing for China’s most important annual political meetings, the ‘two sessions’ as they are also known, which will start on May 21.

As the political advisory body of the Chinese government, the CPPCC includes 16 Macau delegates in its 2,158 members, with the country’s national legislature, the NPC, including 12 local delegates in its 2,980 members.

The sessions will only last for a week instead of the usual two weeks, due to the extraordinary circumstances the national event will also see special health precautionary measures being put in place for the sake of attending delegates.

“As the Macau delegation we know that we have to be very controlled, we have been tested before flying, we will have tests after we land, tests at the hotel. We are also not allowed to move around […] and we will only travel between the hotel and meeting places,” businessman and Macau NPC delegate Kevin Ho told MNA.

Ho joined the 2980-strong NPC after the former president of the Legislative Assembly and now Chief Executive, Ho Iat Seng, resigned as a member to be eligible to run for the top government position.

Like other Macau delegates, Ho believes the current pandemic and the strategies to cope with it will be at the top of the agenda for the two sessions.

“This is a very special year. I would assume that the majority of the events we will have during the meetings will involve talking about the control and progress against Covid-19 and more importantly how we can better recover from the virus, physically, mentally and in the business sense,” Ho noted.

The same was reflected by former legislator and Macau CPPCC delegate, Leonel Alves, who told MNA that the means to deal with the health crisis and the strategies to allow the Chinese economy to recover will be of great importance to the two political bodies, together with the trade war with the US.

Meanwhile, legislator Chui Sai Peng – also a Macau NPC delegate – noted that the novel coronavirus crisis has shown that “depending purely on gaming is risky” and that hopefully, Macau could “grow in other sectors”.

The Great Hall of the People in Beijing

With gross gaming revenues dropping 68.7 per cent year-on-year to some MOP31 billion (US$3.8 billion), local authorities have revised the estimates for the total in gaming taxes to be collected this year from MOP98.3 billion to almost MOP50 billion.

Economic diversification and the role Hengqin could have on it was one of the main themes mentioned by Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng in his maiden policy address; topics were also on the mind of the Macau delegates.

“This time I will be focusing on the integration of Macau in the GBA. It’s a safe and important way for Macau to grow [… ] We should focus our attention on picking Hengqin because it’s so close to us. The new Macau neighbourhood will be a big project for the city to build new facilities, such as schools and medical facilities,” Chui told MNA.

Hengqin authorities sold 194,000 square meters of land in the special economic area for RMB5.3 billion (MOP5.9 billion/US$745 million) to Macau for the development of a residential real estate project exclusive to residents in the SAR.

The ‘Macau New Neighborhood’ will include 27 blocks comprising a total of 4,000 units with different business, educational, medical and social facilities. These units will be sold exclusively to qualified permanent and non-permanent Macau residents.

The project is being developed by Macau Urban Renewal Limited, the local public company in charge of urban renewal and headed by Peter Lam Kam Seng, with works expected to start in the third quarter of this year and to be completed within 48 months.

However, local delegates did not expect that major financial support policies being aimed solely at the Macau SAR will be announced, considering that the city still has considerable financial resources to deal with the economic fallout of the crisis.

“The whole world and the whole country were victims of the current coronavirus. Macau is no exception, but in terms of our own financial resources I think we are ok. We will never create a burden on the country. We will only try to help it seek policies that can help us grow or diversify. At this moment I don’t see there is any need for financial help to Macau,” Kevin Ho noted.

Leonel Alves also defended that, since the city had “its own financial autonomy” there was no need to resort to the central government to “solve its local problems”.

“What might be needed are more measures for future economic expansion towards the Greater Bay Area and in Hengqin. Let’s see what news could come up in that scope,” Alves stated.

Recently, the Chinese government announced several new financial measures to support cross-border transactions and investments between Hong Kong, Macau and cities in southern China.

An announcement was also made today to say that that Chinese authorities will allow local residents to enrol in the Zhuhai health insurance with Zhuhai and Macau authorities will subsidise co-payments.

“We may ask or push, as part fo the Macau delegates team, for better cooperation and merge into the GBA in a more effective and efficient way. If we are to ask and the central government is to give what some people outside may call gifts or policies on how to help Macau it is to provide different policies or strategies on how we can better adapt to and merge into the GBA, especially the growth into Hengqin,” Ho added.

The businessman also expected that maybe temporary entry restrictions previously imposed could be eased, while the suspension of individual travel visas could being lifted and the scheme extended.

In January, Chinese authorities stopped issuing tour group and individual travel visas for visits to Macau by mainland residents.

During his 2020 Policy Address, CE Ho Iat Seng stated that the local government would negotiate with the Chinese central government for the individual travel visa scheme to be reinstated and expanded to more Chinese cities.

The individual travel visa scheme allows mainland Chinese living in eligible areas of mainland China to apply for a single-use travel permit to visit Macau or Hong Kong as independent travellers, covering residents in about 49 mainland cities.

Of the 27.9 million visitors from Mainland China reported in the city last year, some 47 per cent came with an individual travel visa.

Meanwhile, the number of visitors to the city has fallen to record levels in the first months of the year, dropping by 57 per cent year-on-year between January and February to some 3 millions.

“Maybe the scheme could allow more frequent visits to more people from different cities in Guangdong or in a broader region [to travel to Macau],” Kevin Ho added.