China Tightens Grip on Macau as Dissent Rises in Gambling Hub
Like Hong Kong, the nearby former Portuguese colony of Macau is a Special Autonomous Region (SAR) within the People’s Republic of China. That means, on paper anyway, that Hong Kong and Macau operate autonomously from the national government in Beijing.
In practice, the autonomy is especially restricted by Beijing’s overwhelming desire to keep a tight control on every local government within the PRC.
In Hong Kong, students and other citizens occupied commercial districts for several weeks, demanding the right for the public to nominate candidates for the office of chief executive, as had been promised (on paper) when the British handed HK back to China in 1997. Full suffrage was promised for the chief executive election in 2017. That may yet happen, but the nominations will come from a special committee and the candidates will have to acceptable to Beijing.
Macau has now become another thorn in Beijing’s paw.
Macau’s gambling take, which makes up 80 percent of its revenues, has suffered the biggest decline since the industry was liberalized in 2001. This is partly because Xi’s sweeping crackdown on corruption has scared off high-rollers, including corrupt officials.
Xi is also helping inaugurate a second five-year term for Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui, who was re-elected by a pro-Beijing panel in August amid unprecedented political protests.
Au Kam San, a pro-democracy Macau lawmaker, said Beijing still viewed Macau as more controllable than Hong Kong. But the protests from July to October by Ieong’s gambling union, in a city where casinos raked in $45 billion last year, troubled Beijing.
“The gambling union is much more important and it has a higher risk for Beijing because it’s mobilizing potential is much stronger,” Au said. “It’s seen as a threat to Beijing.”
The controversies that have become common in other parts of China, like academic freedom, universal suffrage, and abuses of the criminal justice system to quell dissent, are now surfacing in Macau.