Xi warns Hong Kong and Macau in 'one China' message

Published Sat, Dec 20, 2014 · 05:54 AM

[MACAU] Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Hong Kong and Macau on Saturday to remember they are part of "one China", as pro-democracy campaigners in both semi-autonomous territories call for free leadership elections.

Security has been tight during Xi's two-day visit to Macau to mark the 15th anniversary of the gambling hub's handover from Portugal, just days after police cleared the last remaining protest sites in neighbouring Hong Kong.

Reporters on the airport tarmac waiting for Mr Xi's arrival in Macau on Friday were not allowed to hold umbrellas - the symbol of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement - and were handed raincoats instead.

A small group of protesters had also attempted to walk to where Xi was staying while holding yellow umbrellas. Police stopped them, saying the area was "restricted".

Mr Xi warned both territories on Saturday against a "misguided approach".

"We must both adhere to the 'one China' principle and respect the difference of the two systems," Mr Xi said at the inauguration of Macau's chief executive Fernando Chui, who was selected for a second term by a pro-Beijing committee in August.

"At no time should we focus only on one side to the neglect of the other. This is the only way leading to sound and steady progress. Otherwise a misguided approach from the beginning, just like putting one's left foot into the right shoe, would lead us to nowhere," Mr Xi said.

More than 100 people are expected to turn out for a pro-democracy rally in the historic centre of Macau on Saturday afternoon.

"In the light of Hong Kong's umbrella movement, I think Macau people should escalate our actions for democracy," local protest leader Jason Chao told AFP.

"We need a democratic political system in which the citizens can hold the officials accountable," Mr Chao said, adding that despite a huge economic boom in the past decade, the quality of life for citizens has been on the decline, with government officials seen as too close to big business.

Similar discontent over corruption and social inequality partly underpins the Hong Kong movement.

Both Macau and Hong Kong enjoy freedoms unseen on the mainland - but their leaders are selected by a loyalist committee.

Though Macau's democracy movement is not on the scale of Hong Kong's, it saw its largest protest ever in May over proposed cash benefits for retired Macau officials, with 20,000 people taking part.

Mr Xi gave his backing to Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying, who he met in Macau on Friday, pledging "full trust" in him following the clearance of the protest camps which blocked major highways for over two months.

Beijing and the Leung administration consistently branded the Hong Kong protests "illegal" and gave no concessions to protesters, who at times galvanised rallies of tens of thousands.

Mr Xi's visit to Macau is also an opportunity to drive home the message that the territory needs to diversify away from casinos, which have seen revenues dive owing to a national anti-corruption drive and a stuttering economy.

Macau is the only part of China where casino gambling is legal and has until now depended on high-rollers from the mainland.

But Beijing has warned the southern territory to reconsider its dependence on gaming and is reported to already be clamping down on illicit funds channelled from the mainland through its casinos.


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