International edition
July 31, 2021

The economy has been in a decade-long boom due to the expansion of gambling

Macau celebrates ten stable years under Chinese rule

(Macau).- As Macau observes the 10th anniversary of its return to China later this month, a recent poll undertaken by the University of Macau showed that 96 % of the people were "satisfied" with developments since the evening of December 20, 1999, when the Portuguese flag was lowered for the last time after more than 400 years.

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ndeed, the enclave's 500,000 people have good reasons to feel satisfied, for the most part, with their lot. The economy has been in a decade-long boom due to the expansion of the gambling sector. The inaugural chief executive, Edmund Ho provided boringly stable good governance and avoided most of the missteps that accompanied his Hong Kong counterpart's early years in office.

Macau's last years under Portuguese administration had been a time of strain, partly due to the then faltering economy but also to a spate of gangland murders connected with the casinos, which led many in Macau to cheer the arrival of the People's Liberation Army garrison on the following day.

The Portuguese had scarcely moved out before the American gambling impresarios moved in, bringing with them some of the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas. Macau split the gambling monopoly into three parts and awarded two of them to Wynn Resorts and Sheldon Adelson, respectively owners of the and Venetian Hotel Casino.

Everyone agreed that Macau's gambling scene needed a face lift. Nowadays, there are sumptuous new gambling emporiums in Macau, which among other things, have tables for blackjack, roulette and other games of chance and boast a couple of Michelin-starred restaurants on the premises. The gaming rooms are as big as football fields.

Representatives of the top gambling enterprises huddled in early October to consider whether the offerings might be outstripping the supply and to put a halt to breakneck expansion. That followed a decision in 2008 by the Macau government to freeze new licenses and casino building permits.

The Chinese government too, goes through periods of handwringing over the temptations that the Macau fleshpots hold for cadres interested in taking a big portion of their country's tax receipts to place on the Macau roulette tables, and it recently restricted residents of neighboring Guangdong province to two trips a year, later reduced to a single visit.

The influx of new casino resorts has certainly boosted the economy, but not without some costs. Foreign workers imported to deal the cards and make the beds in the giant hotels account for about 70,000 people out of a work force of 320,000. Today there are more Filipinos in Macau than Portuguese.

Earlier this year the Macau Legislative Assembly enacted a local law to enforce Article 23 of the Macau Basic Law, which, like its nearly identical counterpart charter in Hong Kong, mandates that the territory enact laws that prohibit subversion, secessionism and protection of "state secrets" a term that is very flexible on the mainland.

When the Hong Kong Legislative Council sought to enact a similar law in 2003 it prompted biggest demonstration since Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Some 500,000 people marched in opposition. The Legco backed away from the law, and Beijing has not tried to raise the matter again.

All election groups (Macau does not have political parties) in the September election to the  Legislative Assembly supported "more democracy" in theory and a gradual move to the direct election of the CEO (now chosen by an electoral college of 300), but the democratic ethic is still tepid in Macau.

The local legislature comprises 29 seats of which twelve are directly elected (an increase of two in the past 10 years), 10 from functional constituencies and seven appointed by the chief executive. The proportional voting system in use means that it is extremely difficult for any one faction to gain more than two seats. The "pro-democracy" contingent has two seats, same as years ago. 10

In some ways Macau was ahead of Hong Kong in political development. It introduced directly elected sets in the 1970s, long before Hong Kong's first open seats in 1992. On the other hand, Hong Kong eliminated appointed seats years ago, a system which Macau still clings to.

For the entire decade Macau has been governed by its inaugural CEO, Edmund Ho, belonging to a local banking family, whose second five-year term expires on December 20. His administration has lacked the drama that accompanied Hong Kong's initial chief, Tung Chee-hwa, who eventually resigned midway through his second term.

China's presence always seems to loom much closer in Macau than in neighboring Hong Kong. The mainland or its islands areeasily swim across the water and touch the shore. Every day people by the tens of thousands cross through the gargantuan immigration building at the old border gateway, into and out of Macau.

That plus the enclave's tiny size has given Macau a unique outlook. Hong Kong defines itself in political terms, such as democracy and the rule of law. Macau defines itself more in cultural terms especially its rich history and fascinating architecture.

While encouraging the construction of more gambling casinos and playgrounds such as the Fisherman's Wharf, Macau has not neglected the cultural side. During the past decade it successfully sought World Heritage status for a dozen or so churches, plazas gardens and houses and other monuments.

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