Opinion – President Xi Jinping’s view of Macau and Hong Kong

On December 20, 2019, President Xi Jinping’s speech on the “one country, two systems” in Macau and Hong Kong represented an official Chinese assessment of the developments of the two special administrative regions. At one point, he inadvertently referred Macau’s “one country, two systems” to Hong Kong, showing that President Xi had Hong Kong in his mind during his speech that focused mainly on Macau.
The president firstly heaped praise on Macau’s successful governance in three main aspects: the protection of the central government’s “comprehensive jurisdiction” by enacting Article 23 of the Basic Law as early as 2009 and the establishment of the national security committee in Macau in 2018. At the same time, the three branches of government – executive, legislature, and judiciary “correctly manage their interrelationships” and ensure the maintenance of the “authority of the Chief Executive.” By implication, President Xi and his subordinates are unhappy with the checks and balances between the executive, legislature and judiciary in Hong Kong – a position that was also seen in the previous remarks of some mainland officials responsible for Hong Kong’s development.
Secondly, the president praised Macau’s improvement in the people’s livelihood and its early encouraging result of economic diversification. President Xi emphasized the importance of the happiness of the people of Macau, and he encouraged Macau to participate deeper in the development of the Greater Bay Area and China’s One Belt One Road initiative. Obviously, he appealed to Macau, and by implication Hong Kong, the need to foster economic and social integration into the Greater Bay Area and to contribute to the national geopolitical plan of the central government in Beijing.
Thirdly, President Xi commended Macau’s social stability and multicultural development, balancing the need to achieve the greatness of Chinese culture with the necessity of allowing different cultures to prosper. By implication, he hoped that Hong Kong would also be able to unleash its potential to develop Chinese culture in a society with multicultural identities and ethnic harmony.
President Xi then turned to the features of “one country, two systems,” saying that the local government of Macau, and by implication Hong Kong, should “protect national sovereignty, security and its developmental interests.” These keywords are nothing new, because the 2014 White Paper on the implementation of the Basic Law in Hong Kong had also mentioned the need for Hong Kong to protect national sovereignty, security, and Beijing’s developmental interests.
The President mentioned the second feature of the “one country, two systems,” namely the supremacy of the interests of “one country” over “two systems.” Again, the 2014 White Paper on Hong Kong had already touched on this important aspect.
The third feature of the “one country, two systems” is to realize the Chinese renaissance and the Chinese dream. While President Xi did not name Taiwan in his speech, his emphasis on the need to realize the Chinese renaissance could be interpreted as an implicit remark not only appealing to Hong Kong to catch up with the “good” Macau model but also extending Beijing’s united front to Taiwan. In December 2018, when President Xi delivered his speech on Taiwan, he also used the terms Chinese renaissance and Chinese dream. Hence, although his speech in Macau on December 20 did not mention Taiwan openly, his remarks did have connotation on Taiwan. But perhaps because he did not wish to create an image of siding with the Kuomintang, President Xi’s speech avoided mentioning Taiwan openly.
The fourth characteristic of “one country, two systems” is patriotism, which President Xi implied that Hong Kong should develop patriotic education. Xi praised the deep-rooted patriotism that has already been entrenched in Macau’s education system. In fact, during his visit to Macau, he went to local schools and met students, a political symbol that emphasized the need for patriotic education.
Finally, President Xi expressed his four expectations of the “one country, two systems.” First, he said that the governance in Macau, and by implication Hong Kong, should continue to be improved. His emphasis on governance could also be seen in his meeting with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam when she went to Beijing to report her work to the President before they met again in Macau on December 19. President Xi and Premier Li Keqiang asked Carrie Lam to study and tackle the “causes of profound social contradictions.” When Li met Lam, the Premier looked quite serious, showing that the central government was eager to see the Carrie Lam administration to speed up the process of tackling the societal contradictions in Hong Kong.
The second expectation of President Xi is that Macau, and by implication Hong Kong, should do more in the aspects of policies, manpower, and capital, to participate in the construction of the Greater Bay Area and One Belt One Road. What he meant was that both Macau and Hong Kong should contribute more to the development of the national plan formulated by the central government in Beijing. Beijing’s support of Macau to develop a bond trading centre was already reported by the mass media prior to President Xi’s visit. Hence, Beijing expects both Macau and Hong Kong to have a kind of division of labour, with Hong Kong being a financial and monetary centre, and Macau being a bond centre so as to accumulate foreign capital on the one hand and to provide an important channel for the Renminbi internationalization in the two offshore centres.
The third expectation of the President is to protect and improve the people’s livelihood, adopting the principle of the people-centred governance. President Xi stressed the need for Macau to solve the problems of housing, public health care, and the elderly. Moreover, Macau should increase the education level of its residents, creating favourable conditions for the young people to become local talents. Xi sharply identified the main weaknesses of Macau’s social development: the relatively low level of education of many citizens and the absence of local talents.
The fourth expectation of the President is to embrace social differences and to promote social harmony. He encourages the Macau government to consult the public more, to enhance social coordination, and to solve social disputes. What he meant is that Macau should avoid the social chaos of Hong Kong.
Last but not least, President Xi warned that foreign countries should not interfere with the “one country, two systems” in both Hong Kong and Macau, because this affects China’s national sovereignty, security, and developmental interests. He implicitly referred to the United States, whose Congress passed the US Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019. Beijing’s verdict on the Hong Kong protests is very clear: there were foreign countries that “intervened” in Hong Kong’s political development. As such, the central government in Beijing must back up the Carrie Lam administration to manage the complex political environment.
President Xi’s speech ended with a reference to the late Deng Xiaoping’s great innovation of the “one country, two systems.” Xi believes that the comrades in Hong Kong and Macau must have the Chinese wisdom to manage “one country, two systems” successfully in order to promote the progress of the Chinese renaissance. Again, although President Xi did not mention Taiwan openly, the reference to the Chinese renaissance is pointing implicitly to Beijing’s next target, namely Taipei.
Overall, President Xi’s speech in Macau on the 20th anniversary of its return to the Chinese sovereignty was politically significant. He focused on the successes of Macau, but implicitly referred to the need for Hong Kong to learn from the Macau model, and most importantly he hoped that Taiwan would eventually embrace the broad principle of “one country, two systems” so that the Chinese renaissance and Chinese dream would be realized.

[Professor Sonny Lo is a researcher, political commentator, and observer of Hong Kong and Macau politics who regularly writes for MNA]