19 October 2018
Premier Li Keqiang (center) unveils a package of economic goodies for Macau during his visit to the former Portuguese enclave this week. Photo: Xinhua
Premier Li Keqiang (center) unveils a package of economic goodies for Macau during his visit to the former Portuguese enclave this week. Photo: Xinhua

A tale of 2 SARs: Why Beijing loves Macau more than HK

Hong Kong and Macau, though neighbors, are worlds apart.

As far as Beijing is concerned, Macau is the ideal child – respectful and obedient – while Hong Kong is the prodigal son – rebellious, unruly and defiant.

The two special administrative regions provide two different pictures of China’s implementation of its “one country, two systems” principle.

And from the perspective of the Communist Party cadres in the mainland, it is but fitting and proper to reward Macau for its wonderful display of loyalty and discipline.

Hong Kong is another story. It is a source of enormous headache for Beijing.

It seems that everything the central government does for the territory is regarded with doubt and suspicion.

China opens its arms to embrace the former British colony, and it responds by seeking more autonomy, and even independence.

That is why as a reward for Macau’s loyalty, Beijing wants to boost the former Portuguese enclave’s international exposure.

Early this week, Beijing announced a package of measures to help improve economic ties between Macau and Portuguese-speaking developing countries.

This includes 2 billion yuan (US$297.3 million) in assistance to help develop agriculture, facilitate trade and investment, and conduct medical research and development; and another 2 billion yuan in preferential loans to promote industrial production capacity cooperation and infrastructure development in these countries.

Premier Li Keqiang said Macau will play a major role in implementing these measures, thus helping the gaming hub tap other sources of income.

Beijing has also declared that Macau will become a center for yuan settlement, thus helping develop its financial industry and diversify its economy to reduce its reliance on casinos.

Market watchers believe that Macau will become a yuan settlement center for Portuguese-speaking nations, particularly for trade, commodities and services.

The implication of all this is that Beijing is rewarding Macau for its loyalty. Not only that. It prefers Macau to Hong Kong as far as the implementation of its “going out” policy is concerned.

Before that, Beijing had wanted Hong Kong to play a key role in its One Belt, One Road strategy to expand its influence across the former Silk Road, that is, through Central Asia, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe.

In response, the Hong Kong government has aligned its economic programs to China’s Belt and Road policy, allocating huge sums to encourage students to study in Belt and Road nations, as well as students from those nations to study in Hong Kong.

The government also plans to encourage the city’s professionals, such as those in the financial and accounting sectors, to explore opportunities in those nations.

However, all these measures drew massive negative response from the public.

Hong Kong people are not convinced that the Belt and Road policy will benefit the city or China.

There is no doubt that Macau, where opposition is practically zero, is more desirable to Beijing than Hong Kong in terms of political stability.

It may not be fair to compare Macau and Hong Kong considering that their economies are not of the same scale.

But as far as Beijing is concerned, loyalty to the Communist Party is more important as it will lead to a harmonious society, which in turn will lead to economic prosperity.

That’s why during his visit to Macau this week, Premier Li praised the city for what he called its “successful implementation” of the One Country, Two Systems principle.

He pledged that Beijing will continue to support policies to bolster Macau’s economy and ensure the city’s long-term prosperity and stability.

Macau can play an important role in attracting investment from Portuguese-speaking nations into the China market, while helping Chinese enterprises tap Portuguese-speaking markets, considering that the city had been under Portuguese rule for centuries before the 1999 handover.

Hong Kong, while its strength lies in its professional services sector, may find it hard to provide such services to countries along the Belt and Road areas because of differences in culture and legal systems.

The push for Hong Kong to take part in China’s Belt and Road strategy has not only failed to open new opportunities for the city but has also shown Beijing’s lack of understanding of our unique strengths.

Some scholars believe that Beijing is changing its policies toward the two SARs, taking into consideration not only their actual and potential economic contribution to the mainland but also their level of loyalty and social stability.

Using such criteria, Beijing will regard Macau as a model for Hong Kong to emulate. 

“What Macau gets from Beijing is a result of its loyalty to the authorities,” an academic remarked after Premier Li’s visit to the territory.

“Top leaders are also sending the message to Hong Kong people that they must be loyal to Beijing in exchange for the city’s development.

“In fact, Macau is getting what it wants because of its loyalty and harmonious relationship with Beijing.”

It’s quite understandable for China’s top leaders to assess Hong Kong and Macau based on their social and political stability.

However, it may not fair to use the same parameters for the two special administrative regions, considering that Hong Kong went through a different development under the British rule.

The best approach is for Beijing to implement a hands-off policy in dealing with Hong Kong, in keeping with the spirit of One Country, Two Systems.

Interfering in Hong Kong’s internal development will only fail to boost the city’s economy but also fuel disenchantment and dissent.

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EJ Insight writer

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