20 April 2019
Zhang Dejiang (inset) felt it safe enough to visit the Macau legislature, something he would not do in Hong Kong, during his recent visit to the enclave. Photos: CNSA, Xinhua
Zhang Dejiang (inset) felt it safe enough to visit the Macau legislature, something he would not do in Hong Kong, during his recent visit to the enclave. Photos: CNSA, Xinhua

Why oh why can’t Hong Kong be more like Macau?

If only it were so, we could have what is basically a one-industry economy.

We could become a key center for criminal gangs that thrive on the edges of the gambling business.

We could boost the prostitution trade, even though there is strong evidence that this business is not the most avid among taxpayers.

And, then there’s money laundering – it’s a really big business, indeed not unknown to Hong Kong but Macau appears to specialize.

We could have a majority of the population having been born in the mainland.

We could have a tame legislature and far less political activity.

We could have a media with practically no opposition voices.

We could have schools pumping out patriotic propaganda.

And, maybe best of all, Hong Kong would be a hell of a lot smaller, which, presumably means that there would be a hell of lot less problems.

I’ve gone to all this trouble of working out how the two SARs could be made to more closely resemble each other because I am really keen to join the inspiring cheerleading team that has erupted into applause following this week’s visit to Macau by Zhang Dejiang, the third ranking Chinese Politburo member and the man principally in charge of Hong Kong and Macau affairs.

As ever with these visits by state leaders, it was an opportunity for fawning by the usual suspects, lectures from the bosses and heavy-handed controlled set-piece events of the kind that give waxworks a bad name.

In some ways, precisely because everything is so minutely choreographed beforehand, there was little to provoke surprise but in other ways it is worth looking at both the atmospherics and content of what happened.

It was, for example, significant that Zhang felt it safe enough to visit the Macau legislature, something he would not do in Hong Kong. Yet, he seemed to spend most of his time in Macau obliquely talking about Hong Kong, and what he said confirms the Chinese leadership’s obsessions about what’s happening here. These obsessions are not new but appear to have become overwhelming.

Thus Macau was praised for enacting the kind of Article 23-derived anti-subversion legislation that has been resisted in Hong Kong. Macau did this some time ago, so bringing it up now can only signal the Communist Party’s view that this is now a priority for Hong Kong.

Zhang also told Macau’s tame legislators not to filibuster or use violence in the legislature and banged on about the importance of oath taking. None of these things have happened in Macau so clearly his mind was elsewhere.

But the bottom line, as it always is with the Chinese Communist Party, were warnings to guard against the emergence of chaos. In the eyes of Comrade Zhang and his colleagues, chaos has many meanings, starting with any form of opposition to the government and getting really worrisome when it concerns challenges to the integrity of the Chinese state.

None of this is new, indeed positive comparisons between Macau and Hong Kong have long been dished out but in the past they were a trifle more nuanced and at least gave Hong Kong the benefit of the doubt on economic matters but now the “Macau good, Hong Kong bad” mindset has extended to praising Macau for its economic development and, of course, for its role in President Xi Jinping’s One Belt, One Road project.

Beijing would love Hong Kong to become the mainland-dominated, quiescent place that Macau is today. The idea that all will be well if Hong Kong would just shut up is now increasingly heard from the north.

However, the Chinese leadership knows full well that this will not happen so there is something strongly resembling uncertainty over what to do. Zhang’s visit to Macau shows that the hardliners are in the ascendant and that their only real policy is one of wagging a finger at Hong Kong and taking measures (such as detention of the opposition etc.) to make it clear that resistance is futile.

If only we were like Macau that message would work but Hong Kong is emphatically not like Macau and so parading around the former Portuguese enclave and showering it with praise only serves to enhance the misgivings and fears of Hong Kong people. As they say around Macau’s gambling tables when things go wrong: “all bets are off”.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

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