SAR's destiny linked to that of motherland
Looking back over 20 years of stellar progress in Macao, Lilybeth Deapera sees much to celebrate.
As Philippine consul general in the special administrative region, she is impressed by its fast pace of development, its capacity to recover quickly from disasters and its welcoming attitude to the migrant Filipino community.
As Macao marks the 20th anniversary of its return to the motherland, Deapera said she hopes it will continue to be successful in the years ahead.
China resumed sovereignty over Macao in December 1999 and established the SAR to exercise "one country, two systems" — the unique principle allowing the Macao and Hong Kong SARs to practice a capitalist system — while the mainland continues with a socialist one.
Macao's progress over the past two decades has been marked by political stability, social harmony, economic prosperity and cultural diversity.
Fernando Chui Sai-on, chief executive of Macao since 2009, who is stepping down on Friday, said that pivotal to this success is the government's strict implementation of the Basic Law of the Macao SAR and the principle of "one country, two systems," which grants the city a high degree of autonomy.
Fu Ziying, director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Macao SAR, said the past 20 years have witnessed the fastest and greatest development in Macao's history, with macroeconomic indicators showing a brilliant performance.
The city has also passed laws to protect national sovereignty, security and interests, Fu said.
Macao's GDP surged from $6.1 billion in 1999 to $54.56 billion last year. Per capita GDP grew five times from 1999 to last year, fiscal reserves shot up 193-fold, foreign currency reserves rose sixfold while the unemployment rate fell from 6.3 percent to 1.8 percent.
Wang Zhenmin, an expert on Hong Kong Basic Law and Macao Basic Law, said the successful transformation of politics and law laid a solid foundation for Macao's effective governance.
By applying the Basic Law, the governing system was refined. A new law safeguarding national security was adopted in 2009. Other legislation protecting the Chinese national flag and emblem progressed smoothly, Wang said.
Raising the national flag and singing the anthem are common in local schools. On July 5, after chairing his last meeting of the Legislative Council and joining the election for chief executive, Ho Iat-seng, who becomes Macao's fifth-term leader on Friday, bowed before the national flag and emblem as well as the regional flag and emblem.
Ho said he was "representing our respect for the country and the will to be exemplary in practicing 'one country, two systems.'"
Wang, who is also director of the Center for Hong Kong and Macao Research at Tsinghua University, said practical and effective practices for elections — combining direct votes and consultation, plus full respect for the central government — led to a smooth administrative transfer.
Edmund Ho Hau-wah, Macao's first chief executive from 1999 to 2009, said, "Over the past two decades, Macao has combined its own destiny with that of the motherland."
He said that when Macao returned to the motherland, the city had a weak economy, a high unemployment rate and serious security issues.
"I set myself a task that the region should implement the Basic Law strictly and make the principle of 'one country, two systems' a success in Macao," he said.
"I am gratified to see that Macao has improved a lot in the past 20 years ... This couldn't have been achieved without support from the country or without the efforts of the Macao people," he said.
Effective policy support from the central government has also helped Macao develop into a global tourism and leisure center. The signing in 2003 of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement between the Chinese mainland and Macao focused on promoting free trade and economic cooperation.
In 2009, the Hengqin New Area in neighboring Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, opened to provide Macao with space for industrial and academic expansion.
In 2011, the Macao and Guangdong governments signed an agreement to jointly develop an industrial park promoting traditional Chinese medicine in Zhuhai.
The opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge last year has helped further strengthen Macao's links with Hong Kong and Guangdong, while the Greater Bay Area blueprint released early this year projects an integrative future. The Bay Area comprises nine cities in Guangdong plus Hong Kong and Macao.
Speaking at the Vision China forum in Macao on Dec 11, Irene Lau Kuan-va, president of the Macao Trade and Investment Promotion Institute, said the city has maintained its status as a free port and separate customs territory.
This was possible thanks to "a transparent, nondiscriminatory and open economy, adding up to a very good business-friendly environment," she said.
While the tourism and gaming sectors still enjoy the majority share of the economy, Macao has gradually diversified.
By the end of 2017, the total added value of Macao's emerging industries — including conferences and exhibitions, finance, traditional Chinese medicine, and the cultural and creative industry — had risen by 23.6 percent from 2015, accounting for more than 8 percent of the total added value.
In August 2015, the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Traditional Medicine was officially established in Macao.
Leong VaiTac, Macao's secretary for economy and finance, said, "As of today, the basic structure of a moderately diversified economy has taken shape in Macao."
Shen Beili, commissioner of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in the Macao SAR, said the central government has also made successful moves in extending Macao's global reach. The "one country, two systems" principle not only promotes the city's growth and welfare but also bolsters its international influence.
"In accordance with the Basic Law and Macao's practical needs, the Macao SAR has taken an active role in the activities of international organizations and various international conferences, and raised its voice so that Macao's international influence has been greatly lifted, coordinating with the country's multilateral diplomacy," Shen said.
By 1999, only three countries and regions had granted Chinese citizens of Macao visa-free access. Today, more than 140 countries and regions do so. The city has also gained membership of more than 110 international organizations and associations.
Xu Yingzhen, secretary-general of the Permanent Secretariat of Forum Macao, said the city, in particular, had achieved many fruitful results through Forum Macao.
This multilateral, intergovernmental cooperation mechanism, also known as the Forum for Economic and Trade Cooperation between China and Portuguese-Speaking Countries (Macao), was launched in 2003. Member countries are: Angola; Brazil; Cape Verde; Guinea-Bissau; Mozambique; Portugal; Timor-Leste; and Sao Tome and Principe.
Paulo Cunha Alves, consul general of Portugal in the Macao SAR, said, "In addition to the development of China's bilateral relationship with each member country of the Macao Forum, Macao still plays its role as a coordinating element."
Macao has set up a number of platforms with Portuguese-speaking countries to develop financial services focused on renminbi clearing, financial leasing and wealth management.
According to the Ministry of Commerce, trade between China and these countries rose from more than $11 billion in 2003 to $147.35 billion last year.
Christopher Ng, head of programs development at the British Council in Hong Kong, said Macao "feels a lot more internationalized" than in 1999.
The city's achievements of fast development and long-term prosperity while safeguarding national security and interests are already integrated in its residents' improved quality of life, he said.
Macao students have free education for 15 years, from kindergarten to high school. Residents age 65 and older receive an average combined monthly pension and subsidy of 6,099 patacas ($760) from the government, and life expectancy is more than 80, one of the highest in the world, according to the United Nations.
(Source: China Daily)
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