Macau is counting down to a big bash in two weeks’ time to mark its 20 years under the Chinese rule, when President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan are tipped to visit the former Portuguese colony to swear in its new chief executive, Ho Iat-seng, and other principal officials.
On top of promises of policy measures in Beijing to lift Macau’s prospects, Xi is likely to hail the territory as a success story of the “one country, two systems” framework, which is also in place in Hong Kong, Macau’s “unruly sister city” across the Pearl River Estuary that has been gripped by months of unrest.
Authorities in Macau and Guangdong province are working flat out to ensure a smooth and “zero incident” VIP reception for Xi and other dignitaries representing the central leadership, as was evident in a large anti-terrorism drill held in Zhuhai, the Guangdong city adjacent to Macau, at the end of last month.
The exercise saw about 1,000 police officers amassing 80 vehicles, water cannons, drones and other equipment inside the mainland port area of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, an event attended by deputy chiefs of Hong Kong’s and Macau’s police forces.
The policemen were grouped into two teams pitted against each other in interception, combat, and emergency-response exercises as well as crowd management and tackling illegal protests and gatherings, according to Zhuhai and Hong Kong newspapers.
Zhuhai’s municipal Public Security Bureau said on its WeChat account that the drill was part of the city’s broader preparations for Macau’s celebrations this month.
Macau was handed back to Beijing on December 20, 1999, ending 150 years of colonial rule by Lisbon.
The minuscule territory of 33 square kilometers with a population of 672,000 known for its glittering casinos is unlikely to face any internal security threats when Xi flies in this month, yet mainland cadres and local officials fear a “spillover effect” as unrest drags on in Hong Kong.
Staging the recent drill inside the mainland port area of the bridge crossing the sea between Macau and Hong Kong is evidence of the worry that troublemakers may come calling via the link.
An official with the publicity department of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge Authority based in Zhuhai also told Asia Times that Guangdong Governor Ma Xingrui had instructed them to beef up security at the mainland end of the bridge months ago, when processions and rallies in Hong Kong became violent with widespread vandalism.
Ma was concerned that radicals might lock down the 55-kilometer bridge as well as its artificial islands and damage its facilities or even “invade” Zhuhai and Macau, according to the official, who wished not to be named.
There have also been reports that since June, when protests in Hong Kong broke out, initially over an extradition bill since withdrawn, a number of pro-democracy lawmakers, activists and journalists have been turned away at Macau’s border checkpoints, fueling rumors that Macau had been given a de facto persona non grata list by Beijing to refuse some Hongkongers and expats entry.
Xi and his wife may arrive in Zhuhai on December 19 and visit a local school and some families carefully selected beforehand, and head for the Macau East Asian Games Dome in Cotai the next day to deliver a speech at the inauguration ceremony of the new government.
Xi may also meet with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam while in Macau but other parts of his itinerary remain confidential.