[BEIJING] Macau leader Fernando Chui told Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday that he would try to diversify Macau's casino-dependent economy, which has been hit by the most aggressive anti-graft campaign in China in decades.
Xi, in Macau to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the handover of the former Portuguese colony to Chinese rule, said the world's largest gambling centre "still faces difficulties and challenges that must be properly managed". He did not elaborate.
Xi's pervasive anti-graft campaign contributed to a disastrous year for major casino companies, which have lost a combined US$58 billion in market value over the past six months as VIPs stayed away.
Once a paradise for Chinese government officials and rich businessmen to flaunt their wealth and indulge themselves with private jets and sumptuous hotel suites, Macau is now seen by many to be a pathway for extracting money from China. "We will continue to focus on economic development and improving people's livelihood and actively promote the appropriate diversification of the economy," Chui told Xi, according to the Xinhua state news agency.
Chui, who will be sworn in for his second, five-year term on Saturday, said he hoped to "achieve the sustainable development of Macau".
Xi said the important issue for Macau for some time to come was "how it can make greater progress on the basis of its achievements in the last 15 years and maintain long-term prosperity and stability", according to Xinhua.
Xi's visit comes as gambling revenues for Macau in 2014 are expected to drop for the first time since casinos were liberalised over a decade ago.
Wealthy high-roller gamblers have increasingly steered clear of Macau, on the mouth of China's Pearl River delta, unnerved by increased scrutiny over the gaming industry as Xi's anti-graft drive shows no signs of let-up.
Macau has been held up as a good example of the "one country two systems model" under which both it and Hong Kong came under Chinese rule after Hong Kong was roiled recently by pro-democracy protests for nearly three months.