Xia Baolong’s visit to Macau: Implications for Macau, Hong Kong and Greater Bay Area
The four-day visit of Xia Baolong, the director of the Hong Kong Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO), to Macau from May 23 to 26 has significant implications for not only Macau but also Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area.
Xia’s visit to Macau on the first day was marked by his arrival at the Hengqin-Guangdong-Macau Deep Cooperation Zone prior to the entry to the Macau special administrative zone. In the Deep Cooperation Zone, he listened attentively to the developmental plan, visited “the innovative valley” for Macau’s youth and the ongoing projects for Macau’s new residents, and inspected the Chinese medicine and scientific park. He paid a visit to the customs inspection located at the second line of the Cooperation Zone. Furthermore, Xia met the members of the Management Committee of the Cooperation Zone, exchanging views with them.
Then he went to Macau during the afternoon, bringing the message from the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s hope that the Macau government can and will unite all sectors of the society to implement “one country, two systems” resolutely based on the principle of protecting national security. Moreover, Xia added that Macau should strengthen the construction of the “patriotic people governing Macau,” promote the development of “suitable degree of economic diversification,” and that the Macau government should elevate its standards of governance and governing capability. As such, Macau can and should contribute more to the construction of a strong Chinese nation and the Chinese renaissance.
Xia reiterated the need for Macau to implement accurately and resolutely the “one country, two systems.” Regarding the protection of national security, Xia stressed the importance of national education, national security education and the need for Macau to implement the newly revised national security law.
With regard to the “patriotic people governing Macau,” he added that Macau’s governing power must be “firmly grasped” in the hands of those people who “love Macau and the nation,” and that the Macau people should conduct united front work inside and outside China to win the political support for the “one country, two systems.”
Concerning economic diversification, Xia added that Macau must cultivate new industries, improve the business environment, groom, and attract talents, and develop basic research and consolidate scientific innovation to enhance Macau’s competitiveness.
On the question of developing Hengqin, Xia said that Macau and Guangdong must enhance communication, dialogue, and negotiation, and that both must shape Hengqin as a “new platform” for Macau’s suitable degree of economic diversification.
The second day of Xia’s visit to Macau was characterized by his meetings with the principal officials of the Macau government. He affirmed the central government’s recognition of the work of the Macau government, listening to the reports from them and later interacting with all members of the Legislative Assembly. In the afternoon, Xia visited the Macau Tourism Institute and observed its teaching pedagogy of grooming the talents in the tourism industry.
Xia also visited the Macau disciplinary forces and was briefed by the Secretary for Security Wong Sio Chak on the law-and-order situation in Macau. The HKMAO director encouraged the Macau disciplinary forces to put national security protection and the people’s safe residence as a priority and he promised that the central government fully supports and protects Macau’s safety and security.
Accompanied by Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng, Xia met Sam Hou Fai, President of the Court of Final Appeal, and Prosecutor General Ip Son Sang as well as other judicial officials, listening to their work and interacting with them. Xia affirmed the central government’s recognition of the work of the Macau judiciary.
A highlight of Xia’s second-day visit was the revelation of President Xi Jinping’s letter dated May 23, 2023, to the teachers and students at the Macau University of Science and Technology (MUST), a letter that congratulated the MUST’s participation in the research and manufacturing process of a Satellite named “Macau Science Number 1.” Xi’s letter encouraged the Macau scientists to persist with their excellent tradition of loving the nation and loving Macau, and to actively integrate with the national development and to participate in the construction of the Greater Bay Area.
In response to Xi’s encouraging letter, Macau Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng expressed the Macau people’s gratitude to the support from the Chinese President and he pointed to the tremendous opportunities provided by the Chinese nation for Macau’s scientific, innovative, educational and talent development.
The third day of Xia’s visit to Macau was punctuated by his early breakfast at a Chinese restaurant and then his interaction with the elderly residents and volunteers at the elderly services centres, singing songs together and revealing President Xi’s response to the letter from the Macau elderly people. Xi said that the Macau elderly residents should take care of their health and that they should develop their brightness through the continuation of their patriotic spirit. Moreover, President Xi hoped that the Macau government would continue to cooperate with the society on the provision and improvement of elderly services.
Xia visited various sites, including the Macau car-racing museum, and the exhibition centre of the Sino-Portuguese trade cooperation and services. He met the businesspeople and emphasized the need for Macau to develop sustainability and other new industries. Xia listened to how Macau has been developing its non-material cultural heritage projects, local customs, and unique cultural festivals. Those businesspeople who interacted with Xia embraced those from the restaurant and catering industry, the construction sector, the monetary and financial services, and the Portuguese-speaking enterprises and business associations. Xia affirmed the central government’s appreciation to the Macau commercial and business sector’s support of the Macau government in the past three years, and he encouraged its sectoral members to build up the Cooperation Zone in Hengqin and to make extra efforts at Macau’s economic diversification.
Xia also visited the public housing units in Macau, staying in an apartment for the elderly for an hour. He expressed his appreciation to the space of the unit and listened to official explanation of Macau’s public housing policy and development. Obviously, the HKMAO director attached immense importance to Macau’s people’s livelihood and housing development.
The final day of Xia’s visit was characterized by his visit to the MUST and the University of Macau, inspecting four national experimental laboratories. He inspected how the Chinese medicine laboratory was operated at the MUST and listened to the feelings of 18 MUST teachers and students who participated in the national satellite project. Xia visited the University of Macau’s smart city laboratory project.
Xia also inspected two non-gaming leisure projects located at two convention and exhibition centres. He expressed his deep interest in how Macau can and will develop tourists in the areas of non-gaming sectors – a sign that the HKMAO director attached foremost importance to the development of non-gaming sector so that Macau can and will diversify its economy away from its overdependence on casino capitalism.
Xia’s visit has important implications for Macau, Hong Kong, and the Greater Bay Area (GBA).
First, he pointed out explicitly that Macau’s economic diversification is necessary without any choice – a remark echoing the wishes of President Xi. To the central government and its leaders, Macau’s overdependence on casino capitalism is ideologically unacceptable, although they have not made it explicit. The fact that a number of Macau casino capitalists were “punished” in Macau and the mainland due to their violation of the mainland and Macau laws before the Macau government’s decision of granting the casino concessionaries last year was a clear indication of Beijing’s firm position. Casino capitalism in Macau can and will continue, but it will have to be healthy and regulated properly in accordance with the law, especially the protection of national security in the mainland and Macau. From now on, Macau’s casino capitalists must be sensitive to the central leadership’s expectations.
Second, Xia’s visit to the Cooperation Zone prior to his arrival at Macau was significant, meaning that the central leadership paid special attention on how Guangdong and Zhuhai assist Macau to diversify the region’s economy. The term “suitable” diversification means that so long as the Cooperation Zone will witness the movement from some Macau residents to work and live there, and some degree of foreign investment, it will be regarded as an indicator of success of Macau’s economic diversification.
As such, Xia’s meeting with the businesspeople and the Portuguese business elites was important – the Cooperation Zone is led by mainly Guangdong and Zhuhai with the forceful mobilization of more Macau people to reside, work and study there and with the combined attraction of Portuguese and some foreign investment in the coming years. If the Cooperation Zone is a symbol of a new hybrid combining the economic-legal features of Macau and the mainland, it will likely be another new special administrative region in the mainland along the vision of the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping that there would be more Hong Kong-style and Macau-style economic enclaves in South China.
Third, there is a looming division of labour between Hong Kong and Macau, with Hong Kong focusing on its monetary and financial centre and Macau attaching importance to partially gaming tourism and partially economically diversified sectors, such as Chinese medicine hub, innovative technology development and new convention and exhibition centre. Hong Kong has been encouraged to integrate closer with Shenzhen, including Qianhai, to develop its technological and innovative sectors. Xia’s visit to the MUST and University of Macau were important this time, because although the global ranking of Macau’s universities might not be so high as compared with its Hong Kong counterparts, Xia’s and President Xi’s messages were clear – Macau’s universities can and will play a greater and an important role in China’s national and scientific development. Such messages are a boost to Macau’s universities, which must work harder in their teaching and research, and which should grasp the physical space of the Cooperation Zone to set up their campuses and research sites there sooner or later.
Fourth, if Xia Baolong is going to write up a report with recommendations on both Macau and Hong Kong, his reports appear to show some prominent similarities: the emphasis on the protection of national security, the stress on the patriotic elites governing Hong Kong and Macau, the focus on the improvement of the people’s livelihood and housing, the accelerated integration of the two special administrative regions into the GBA, and the clear division of labour between Hong Kong and Macau as well as other cities in the GBA. A recommendation in his report appears to ask Guangdong, Zhuhai and Shenzhen to make more efforts at assisting Macau’s and Hong Kong’s closer socio-economic and scientific-technological integration with Hengqin and Shenzhen respectively. As such, Beijing has a clear regional developmental strategy in the Southern Chinese region, implying that the “one country, two systems” will persist with the next target clearly directed at Taiwan’s possible socio-economic integration with the Fujian province and the GBA too.
In conclusion, Xia Baolong’s visit to Macau has important implications for Macau, Hong Kong, and the Greater Bay Area. If “one country, two systems” remains the pillar of Beijing’s policy toward Macau and Hong Kong, it will undoubtedly persist with resilience and swift adaptation to the rapidly changing circumstances, including the need for both Macau and Hong Kong to integrate closer to Hengqin and Shenzhen respectively, the emphasis on the protection of national security, the improvement of the people’s livelihood and public housing policy, and enhancement of the competitiveness of the two special administrative regions, and the continuous contributions of the two capitalist enclaves to China’s renaissance.