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China and the Special Siblings

As demonstrations plunged Hong Kong into recession, Macau continued to boom as the world’s richest casino market.

Both cities on China’s southern coast, 40 miles apart by sea, spent more than a century under European colonial rule—Macau under Portugal and Hong Kong under the U.K.—before being returned to Beijing in the late 1990s. Each was given a guarantee of semiautonomy and human-rights protections.

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But the two former colonies have followed very different paths.

While antigovernment demonstrations, rooted in resentment against China’s ruling Communist party, have sparked turmoil in Hong Kong, Macau has remained stable, owing to its economic dependence on the mainland, a far smaller population and closer cultural and political ties.

China’s President Xi Jinping is expected to showcase the Macau model this week during his visit to the territory to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover and swear in Chief Executive Ho Iat-seng, its new leader. Mr. Ho was elected—unopposed—in September by a 400-member election committee studded with pro-Beijing representatives.

For Beijing, Macau is a model of its “one country, two systems” political system, developed for Hong Kong in 1997 and extended to the former Portuguese territory when it was returned to China two years later. Li Zhanshu, who chairs China’s parliament, this month lauded Macau for developing a deep Chinese national identity, hinting that its Hong Kong sibling should learn from it.

But critics say Macau’s success is more about the triumph of one country than of two systems.

“One country, two systems just doesn’t exist in Macau,” said Jason Chao, the former president of the New Macau Association, one of the city’s few democratic parties. “China is pulling the strings. Their decisions are not entirely wrong, they have done good to Macau, too, but that’s not how this is supposed to work. Macau is a failed example.”

Macau has largely proven itself to be a loyal subject of Beijing, with few stirrings of the social upheaval that have shaken Hong Kong. Macau enacted national security legislation, which Hong Kong’s government shelved after protests in 2003, that could restrict freedom of speech. The former Portuguese colony is also considering delivering an extradition arrangement with Beijing similar to a now-withdrawn Hong Kong bill that prompted this year’s tumult. Earlier this month, it denied entry to some journalists and the leaders of an American business group from Hong Kong.

Macau’s shiny casinos stand over the old urban area. The lobby at the Venetian, one of the city’s most popular hotels and casinos.

Macau has an historic zone as well as newer hotels and casinos.

Tourists visiting the Venetian Macau, one of the most popular hotel and casinos in Macau.

Macau’s media and universities are less independent than their counterparts in Hong Kong. A proposal to introduce Chinese patriotic education in Hong Kong schools was shelved after inspiring large protests in 2012. In Macau, universities pride themselves on political neutrality and schools promote Chinese patriotism.

Macau’s fealty is partly due to its economic reliance on the mainland. It has been cruising a wave of Chinese money that has made it the world’s third-richest place by GDP per capita behind Luxembourg and Switzerland. Although Hong Kong’s retail and tourism industries also flourish with the influx of mainland tourists, the city’s long-term status as a trade and financial hub has made it less susceptible to Beijing’s temperament.

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  1. The re-emergence of China as a World Power should be viewed as a good thing, as should that of Russia. The US came to its position of world dominance partly through its favorable climate, geography and its geology, and partly through its political system. The political systems of China and Russia are both much older than that of the US, but their climates and geographies and geologies are much less favorable (China too mountainous and not enough well-placed rivers; Russia too cold and unmanageably big). In this emerging world, Macau and Hong Kong are both flea-sized aberrations, where the suck-ups win and the troublemakers lose. This is as it should be.

    • I hope you don’t actually believe what you commented. China’s political system was foisted on the Chinese people through the violent coup of a band of communists. China’s history is ancient but the scourge of humanity known as socialism/communism was birthed in the mid 19th century by a disgruntled German former choirboy named Karl Marx and under the implementation alone by China’s own MaoTseTung has cost 69 million Chinese lives and running to this day. Neither Chinese, nor Russian Soviet style, or the current communism lite are anything to be applauded but something to be globally monitored under the headline of crimes against humanity.

    • Really . You are good with those types of government becoming stronger and impacting more people.

    • How STUPID R U?….. Russia’s CURRENT “political system” is less than 3 – 4 decades old, since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, which started barely 100 years ago…. China’s Communist Ruling Party is barely 70 years old! The U.S.A. has been around since 1776! Is everything else you’re saying garbage, too….????….

  2. The political systems of Red China and Russia are much younger than the US. Red China did not come into being until 1949 and Russia not until 1991.

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