Macau vs Hong Kong, a tale of two cities in black and white

For the Chinese leadership, the former Portuguese enclave of Macau is now the model post-colonial child: dutiful, attentive and obedient to parental dictates emanating from the north. By contrast, neighboring Hong Kong, a British possession for more than 150 years before its 1997 handover to Chinese rule, has turned out to be Beijing’s enfant terrible: querulous, petulant and defiant in response to Beijing’s paternalism.
On July 1, Hong Kong will mark 20 years since the Union Jack was lowered and the Chinese flag raised over the city. From Beijing’s perspective, it still stubbornly refuses to grow up. Regular anti-mainland street protests continue (some of them even featuring colonial flags symbolizing the good old days under the British), as do unrelenting demands for greater democracy. Moreover, further raising the ire of the central authorities, a small but vocal group of separatists, most of them young and disillusioned with local leaders strung along by Beijing’s puppet strings, are calling for Hong Kong to declare itself an independent city-state à la Singapore.
While no one with a clear head believes this fledgling independence movement will ever fly, the so-called “localists” who promote the idea have crossed a red line for mainland authorities. In response, Beijing, once tolerant of its wayward Hong Kong child, is now taking a harder line and pointing to Macau – which has grown immensely wealthy since its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1999 thanks to high-rollers from the mainland – as an example of the kind of fealty and conformity it expects from Hongkongers in the future. That was certainly the message delivered by Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and the state leader overseeing Hong Kong and Macau affairs, during his three-day visit to the gambling hub last week. While Zhang, China’s third-most-powerful politician after President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, never mentioned Hong Kong by name while in Macau, it was obvious that he had the recalcitrant city in mind in almost his every utterance.
For example, Zhang went out of his way to praise the people of Macau for their patriotism and high regard for the sovereignty and security of the nation – all points, in the eyes of mainland leaders, woefully lacking in Hong Kong. Zhang’s unstated but nevertheless crystal-clear message: Patriots don’t insult the motherland, wave colonial flags and call for independence. Patriots don’t place their selfish interests above those of the nation. And patriots follow Beijing’s repeated directives to enact national-security legislation prohibiting and punishing subversion, something a compliant Macau legislature did way back in 2009 but which Hong Kong has yet to do because of the massive protest likely to be ignited by such a move.
Indeed, in 2003, the last time the Hong Kong government proposed an anti-subversion law, 500,000 people took to the streets to register their opposition and anger. The bill was subsequently shelved and its chief proponent, then secretary of security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, forced to resign. Ever since, the Hong Kong government has been gun-shy about resuscitating the bill. Mainland leaders, however, have shown no such reticence, all the while maintaining that Hong Kong is bound by Article 23 of its mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, to implement national-security legislation outlawing acts of sedition and treason against the central government.
Zhang’s friendly visit to the Macau legislature served to underscore another contrast between the two cities. When Zhang came to Hong Kong last May, he studiously avoided the city’s raucous Legislative Council, to which two pro-independence lawmakers, Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, were elected last September. By the time Zhang arrived in the city, the duo had been unseated for turning their oaths of office into histrionic anti-Beijing protests, but the 27 pan-democratic lawmakers remaining in the 70-member body still manage to make the Legco chamber a place where mainland and local leaders are routinely denounced and debased.
Hong Kong – an international finance center with a population of 7.3 million and a highly educated younger generation demanding better housing, better jobs and better government – was never meant to be compared to Macau, a city of only 650,00 people living in a glitzy casino and entertainment culture largely dependent on nouveau riche punters from the mainland.
Source : Asia Times


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