China President Xi Jinping praised Macau for its economic prosperity and sovereign stability during the region’s 20th anniversary of being returned from Portugal to the People’s Republic.
On December 20, 1999, Portugal handed Macau back to China after 442 years of rule. It came just two years after Britain conceded sovereignty of Hong Kong. Together, Hong Kong and Macau are China’s two Special Administrative Regions (SAR). But in 2019, they’ve behaved much differently.
Both areas cherish their freedoms not afforded to residents on the mainland under communist control. But Macau, Xi says, is a more trusted ally and representative of what the country calls its “one country, two systems” arrangement.
The long-term prosperity and stability of Macau will, with firm determination, never be shaken by temporary twists and turns,” Xi said at the East Asian Games Dome near the Cotai Strip.
“The will of the Chinese government and the Chinese people to safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests is as firm as a rock,” Xi added. “We will never allow any external forces to interfere in Hong Kong and Macau affairs.”
The 20th anniversary coincided with the inauguration of new Macau Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng. Ho is just the third chief executive since Macau’s return, and will serve a five-year term with the potential for one re-election.
Just three years after its handover from Portugal, Macau decided to end Hong Kong billionaire Stanley Ho’s monopoly on casino gambling and welcome in five additional operators.
The move would create the richest gambling hub on the planet, provide a stable economic foundation for the region’s 670,000 residents, and helped transform the area once riddled with crime into one of the safest locales in Asia.
This year alone, the Macau government has collected $13 billion in casino taxes through November.
According to The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the enclave is poised to become the richest place on Earth in terms of per-capita gross domestic product next year. In 2018, Macau had an average per-capita GDP of $122,489.
Hong Kong has been in a state of chaos since June, when an extradition bill was being considered that would have allowed fugitives to be deported to mainland China and Taiwan for prosecution. Tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens took to the streets to protest the legislation, which they viewed as China’s way of obtaining additional control of the SAR and threatening its autonomy and civil liberties.
Xi says the misunderstanding was the work of outside forces, including the United States and Britain, countries the leader says wish to undermine China.
The will of the Chinese government and the Chinese people to safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests is as firm as a rock,” Xi declared. “We will never allow any external forces to interfere in Hong Kong and Macau affairs.”
“The great motherland will always strongly back Macau,” Xi concluded. The President encouraged more integration with the mainland, but didn’t announce specifics on that goal.