‘Apple of country’s eye’: top Beijing official tells Macau to maximise advantages

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“Xia put forward the vivid metaphor that Macau is the apple of the country’s eye. Macau’s important status is self-evident,” Ho said after Xia wrapped up his inspection trip and left Macau.

“His emphasis on staying united to polish Macau’s golden business card as an international metropolis is positive affirmation and encouragement for the Special Administrative Region.”

Macau leader Ho Iat-seng has not revealed whether he plans to run for re-election. Photo: Handout

Ho pledged that Macau would leverage and maximise its “six advantages” to drive development, and collaborate with various sectors and residents to diversify the city’s industrial structure.

He was referring to Xia pointing to Macau’s institutional advantages under the “one country, two systems” governing principle, as well as having ample room for development that would allow more growth and expansion.

Macau enjoyed, from Xia’s perspective, a highly internationalised business environment and strong economic foundation, while also being a melting pot of both East and West, and having strong patriotic sentiments.

Ho also said his administration would seize valuable opportunities from the Macau-Hengqin cooperation zone, turning it into a new platform for the economy to achieve moderate and diversified development.

“We will intensify the development of Macau’s four big industries inside the zone in the future … that can help the bilateral development of Macau and Zhuhai,” Ho said, referring to sci-tech research and high-end manufacturing, traditional Chinese medicine, cultural tourism, conventions and exhibitions, and finance.

Beijing unveiled a plan in 2021 to link Macau with neighbouring Hengqin, a small island belonging to Zhuhai in Guangdong province.
Xia Baolong (centre) pays a visit to the University of Macau. Photo: Handout

Under the plan, the 106 sq km (26,190 acres) cooperation zone – three times the area of Macau – has been run under a dual-leadership model via a committee co-led by the chief executive and the governor of Guangdong.

As a part of diversification efforts, the Hengqin zone is tasked with developing scientific and technological research, high-end manufacturing, and traditional Chinese medicine.

Xia visited the zone on Thursday and toured the campus of Hengqin School, which is affiliated to Macau’s Hou Kong Middle School, and spoke with representatives of two Macau businesses that have established themselves on the island.

He also paid a visit to Hengqin Port and inspected its one-stop joint services lanes for passenger and commercial vehicles, and its immigration clearance hall for passengers.

Asked if Xia had given any instructions on the coming election, Ho said no discussions centred on the topic had emerged in the past seven days.

“We have our established procedures for the election and everything is now following these procedures,” he said, without revealing whether he intended to run for re-election.

Macau’s Electoral Affairs Commission will announce the 400 members of the Election Committee on August 19. The election date will be announced on Ho’s instructions.

The panel responsible for preparations said in April that the election would not take place until at least October. The previous election was held in late August 2019.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Macau’s return to Chinese administration in 1999, with the city formerly governed by the Portuguese.

He had 26 known events during which he met officials, lawmakers, tycoons, economists, business chambers, lawyers, youth and media representatives, patriotic groups and district councillors.

Veteran political commentator Sonny Lo Shiu-hing said Xia’s trips to both cities being of same duration showed Macau was on an equal footing with Hong Kong.

“It implies that the central authorities treat both cities equally without perpetuating the old image of ‘big Hong Kong, small Macau’,” Lo said, adding that in Beijing’s eyes the two cities would have unique divisions of labour.

Lo said Macau would play a role as a “para-diplomatic” platform for the mainland to enhance its relations with Portuguese-speaking countries while Hong Kong remained an international financial centre with global connections and its common law system, playing its role as a “superconnector”.

“There is no need for Hongkongers to worry that Beijing will care less about Hong Kong with Macau rising,” he said.

“But Hong Kong’s ruling elites should not be arrogant any more and be humble to cooperate with Macau to achieve a win-win situation, especially in boosting tourism.”

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