A well-known Chinese analyst called Macau a “success story with far-reaching implications” as the neighboring region of Hong Kong is the scene of anti-government protests.
“I would say that for the central government, and for the 1.4 billion people on the mainland, Macau has been a very successful example of the ‘one country, two systems’ formula,” Lusa Gao Zhikai said.
Gao served as an interpreter for former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and is currently one of the best-known commentators on Chinese television.
That principle made it possible to define for Macau and Hong Kong a high degree of executive, legislative and judicial autonomy for a period of 50 years after the transfer of the two territories to the People’s Republic of China.
Gao Zhikai said that since the transfer of the administration from Portugal to China, the “rates of improvement” in Macau “speak for themselves.”
“In the last 20 years, Macau has achieved stability, growth, peace and rapid economic development,” he said.
In comparison with Hong Kong’s neighboring Chinese Special Administrative Region, Gao said that Macau was able to maintain a “good balance between economic development and political path.”
In just one generation, Macau has become the largest gaming center in the world, with gross domestic product (GDP) per capita at MOP666,893(US$82,543) last year, one of the highest in the world and almost twice as Hong Kong.
Gao Zhikai considered the situation in the former British colony “much more complicated”.
Hong Kong has been the scene of protests for nearly three months, triggered by a proposal to amend the extradition law, which would allow criminals to be extradited to countries without prior agreements, such as mainland China.
For the Chinese analyst, ties to Anglo-Saxon countries and a diversified economy make Hong Kong more susceptible to “political turmoil”.
“There are certain political forces who believe that greater independence from Hong Kong, or even return to British rule, or so-called Hong Kong independence, would be better,” he noted.
Gao Zhikai pointed to the prominence of non-Chinese in Hong Kong’s legal system, where there are still many British, Australian or Canadians, part of the sovereign transfer agreement that allowed the region to maintain the Basic Law [the Hong Kong mini constitution].
“This all-purpose arrangement now seems to haunt Hong Kong, creating a paralysis between the judiciary and the executive and the electoral system is not working either,” he said.
“There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, which makes the whole situation more complicated,” he added.
In Macau, “it is felt that the connection to mainland China is of the utmost importance” and that “maintaining close relations with the central government and with mainland China as a whole is absolutely in their interest,” Gao Zhikai said, recalling that the region’s economy is dependent on the flow of tourists from the mainland to the casinos.
“Everyone is learning from the region, including the central government,” he said.
Gao Zhikai also recalled that gambling is a legacy of the Portuguese administration, which Macau should enjoy.
“Given the limitations of territory and population, and the absence of a major financial center, I see nothing wrong with Macau continuing to develop a robust gaming sector,” he said.
Regarding the Forum for Economic and Trade Cooperation between China and Portuguese-speaking Countries, known as the Macao Forum, Gao praised the role of the Macao SAR as a bridge between Beijing and the Lusophone countries, but rejected the intention to establish a platform equivalent to the Commonwealth [organization that integrates states and territories that once belonged to the British colonial empire].
“I don’t think China should be the integrator of Portuguese-speaking countries and regions, but Portugal and Macau have a connection of hundreds of years, and it turns out that Macau is now part of China, which is probably the largest trading partner of all Portuguese-speaking countries except Portugal,” he said.
In 2018, trade between China and the Lusophone bloc reached US$147.4 billion, an increase of 25.31 per cent year-on-year, according to data released by Forum Macao.
“I think Portugal should be pleased with the integrative role developed by Macau and China, as it is a work that could not be developed, because it has no financial resources to do so,” he said.
He said China saw the maintenance of Portuguese heritage in Macao as “positive” and set a contrast with India’s policy towards the Goa region, “where Portuguese influence was phased out after integration.”
“China and the Chinese people have no problem maintaining Portuguese heritage in Macau,” he said.