Macao Celebrates 20 Years Since China Handover Online

As the 20th anniversary since the Macao semi-autonomous region became part of China, new incentives are being pushed as Hong Kong tensions rise. The Chinese President, Xi Jinping, will visit Macao this week and is expected to announce new policies and economic initiatives that will incentivize and spur the city into a new era of fiscal dominance.

The skyline of Macao.

Macao has seen an epic transformation in fortunes since the handover to Chinese rule. The 20th anniversary brings a time to highlight its rise in fortunes and the situation compared to Hong Kong. ©AndyLeungHK/Pixabay

In a period where local residents will celebrate the handover of the region from the control of Portuguese, we can reflect on the importance of the local gaming economy, which can be wholly attributed to the economic prosperity of the Macao.

As the casino capital of the eastern world, society in Macao has become increasingly reliant on gambling revenues. Macao  Local residents and business owners will be eagerly awaiting news from Xi Jinping on plans to diversify the economic situation, and increase investments in industries far removed from the city’s booming casino business. The Macanese economy has deep roots to the local gambling industry, since it is the only city in China that allows casinos to operate, the incoming revenue from overseas gambling tourists is highly concentrated into a very small part of the country.

But despite the heavy reliance of the Macao economy on the wealth of its resident casino operators, so far this investment is paying huge dividends. This is in the form of a global reputation of Macao as a hotspot for luxury in the east. The tourism industry is rapidly growing, spawning with its vast opportunities for local leisure businesses to thrive. But the largest indicator of the economic success of Macao is the 2008 decision to begin annual handouts to its 650,000 residents. Every year, each resident regardless of age receives HK$9,000. As expected, this policy is hugely popular and gives the government license to further expand the business opportunities within the gambling sector without facing huge public backlash.

Reflecting On the Economic Prosperity of Macao Post-Handover

It is no secret that Macao has seen its economic fortunes grow substantially since being absorbed into the Chinese sphere of political influence and control. Leaders in Beijing have been incredibly vocal in their praises, acknowledging the cities’ newfound riches, attributing the prosperity to their compliance and deference toward Chinese authoritarian rule.

Before 1999, after four decades of Portuguese rule, Macao was a derelict and resourceless city. Unemployment levels were severely low, and investment in local businesses and communities was almost non-existence. Looking forward to 2019, the situation couldn’t be more contrasted. In 20 years the fortunes and opportunities of residents of Macao are on a similar scale to some of the wealthiest cities on the planet.

Perhaps the biggest indicator of Macao’s dramatic change in fortunes is the city’s skyline. Much like the local economy, Macao’s skyline has transformed beyond recognition from the years of Portuguese rule, now full of huge glass skyscrapers, and the glittering casinos which have been so integral to the cities rise in prosperity.

Further analysis of the cities key economic metrics highlights the scale of the improvement. Whilst being the only territory in China where gambling is legal,Macao has seen its GDP grow from US$6.4 billion in 1999 to US$55 billion in 2019. This scale of economic growth is completely unprecedented in western economies. To put this in perspective, the per capita GDP of Macao is only bettered by the oil-rich Qatar, and the casinos in Macao rake in more per week than Las Vegas does in a month!

Macao Jubilation in Contrast to Simmering Hong Kong

The biggest contrast that commentators are focusing on this special anniversary will not be the difference in economic fortunes of Macao pre and post-Portuguese rule years, but the societal, political and economic differences between Macao and Hong Kong.

There are many similarities between the two cities, both were under the control of a foreign power into the revitalization of the Chinese premiership regained control, and both have become economic hubs in their own right. The recent situation in Hong Kong has seen political turmoil overflow into the public and international financial services industry which the city thrives on, with China slowly applying tighter fiscal and judicial controls over Hong Kong.

Unlike Macao, the majority of residents in Hong Kong oppose Chinese influence and are living in a permanent state of defiant opposition to the influence of China. Xi Jinping when visiting Macao this week will be sure to acknowledge this loyalty from Macao and is likely to highlight their compliance with Chinese rule as a reason for the prosperity of the local economy, whilst making an example of Hong Kong people for damaging their own potential fortunes with political unrest.

Local social scientist and political commentator, Larry So, had his say on the situation, commenting:

[Macau] is like the good boy in a family. Good boys always get candies, and the good boy may find his life pretty comfortable.Larry So, Hong Kong-born Social Scientist now based in Macao

The difference in politics couldn’t be more striking. Unlike Macao, every public project must seek funding approval from local lawmakers. The city has been completely rocked by public-protests the last 6 months, at times being brought to a complete standstill. Hong Kong is completely defiant and resists all attempts to increase the levels of legal and political integration with China.

Beijing wants Hong Kong to be more like Macau in terms of its societal attitudes, legal framework and political structure. But given their hugely different colonial pasts, and the path they both find themselves on, this will be nearly impossible to achieve.

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