China‘s President Xi Jinping has said that Macau’s patriotism was the most important reason for the success of its “one country, two systems” formula of governance, as he led celebrations to mark 20 years of Chinese rule in remarks that appeared to draw a contrast with neighbouring Hong Kong.
At a ceremony on Friday morning, Xi focused overwhelmingly on the need for strict adherence to “one country, two systems”, which has come under sharp criticism in Hong Kong, where the mainland has been accused of chipping away at the civil liberties it promised the two territories would retain under Chinese rule.
“‘One country’ is the prerequisite and basis of ‘two systems’,” Xi said. “Only by ensuring no distortion of the ‘one country, two systems’ practice can the cause of ‘one country, two systems’ go far and steady.”
Macau and Hong Kong are the only two territories in China that are governed under the framework.
Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan, who is in Macau, described the speech as very flattering of the city and the way it was run.
“He said Macau was a model of harmony where people expressed their opinions in the proper way,” she said. “That could be seen as a rebuke to Hong Kong.”
Xi reiterated that Macau and Hong Kong were China’s internal affairs and Beijing would “absolutely not allow” foreign interference, a line that received warm applause from the audience of local politicians, members of the business elite and invited foreign guests.
He earlier swore in the new Macau administration led by 62-year-old businessman Ho Iat-Seng.
Unlike Hong Kong, which has been rocked by months of anti-government protests, there is little overt dissent in Macau, a reflection of its close ties to and economic dependence on mainland China. Albert Wong, who is a columnist in the territory, said the two cities’ divergent paths also reflected their different colonial histories.
“The departure of Macau from Hong Kong started in 1966 with the Cultural Revolution when pro-Beijing powers in Macau revolted against the Portuguese colonial government and the result was that they won,” he said. “The two cities departed from each other culturally.”
Incoming chief executive Ho pledged improvements to the territory’s administration, infrastructure, transportation and economy.
The measures are expected to include a new yuan-denominated stock exchange and policies to further integrate Macau with the mainland.
“‘Love China, love Macau’ has become the core value of the whole society … every party deeply understands Macau and China’s future and destiny are closely related,” Xi said at a celebratory gala dinner on Thursday.
Xi also joined chorus singers to participate in a rendition of the patriotic song, Ode to My Motherland. Dressed in a suit with a red tie and accompanied by his wife, he sang on stage and clapped along.
His speech on Friday comes at the end of a three-day visit marked by tight security and border controls to prevent any spillover of dissent from Hong Kong, which was once a British colony.
Journalists, activists and even the heads of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong were barred from entering the city in the run-up to Xi’s visit. Macau authorities have not commented on the issue.
Ferry and light rail services were also restricted with operators citing security concerns.
Macau returned to Chinese rule in 1999 with the same “one country, two systems” formula that governs Hong Kong.
Protests are rare in the territory. More than half of its 620,000 population are people who have moved there from the mainland over the past couple of decades.