Red Flag Over Macau    Asiaweek

Macau: Doubt, Nostalgia as Clock Ticks Toward Handover    IPS

Politics - Macau: Chinese Troops Entry Seals Handover      IPS



Artigo enviado para a Asiaweek. Texto final em colaboração com outra jornalista. Dezembro 1999.

Red Flag over Macau

Clara Gomes

On December 20, 442 years after the arrival of the Portuguese, Macau will be handed over to China. For this country, this is the second phase of the reunification, based on Deng Xiaoping's "one country two systems" principle. After Hong Kong and before Taiwan. For Portugal, it is the end of a world empire of five centuries.

Macau's handover is more than just what the world media will show on December 19 and 20: a flag coming down a army coming in, the solemn expressions of political leaders, national and nationalistic icons and slogans, dance and music performances, VIP's in their best suits.
To understand the handover it is necessary to know a little bit more about a place that is so specific and at the same time so diverse.

Macau was never a colony in the strict sense since the Portuguese did not cease it by force rather rent it from China in 1557, some years after their arrival in these parts where they searched water for the ships that made commerce with Japan. The mandarins recognized the services of the Portuguese sailors in driving the pirates away and made a deal with these foreigners. The port's taxation was divided by both and for some times sovereignty over the land was also divided. In 1887 the Portuguese sovereignty was recognized by Beijing, but some time after, disputes arose and throughout the decades the question was never settled until 1979 when, in the Paris Agreement, Macau was recognized by both parties as a Chinese territory under Portuguese administration.
When the Luso-Chinese Joint Declaration on the question of Macau was signed, in April 13, 1987, the transitional period into the Special Administrative Region of Macau (SARM) began.

Autonomy for 50 years

The autonomy of the territory, the capitalistic economical system and the justice and political systems inherited from the Portuguese, as well as the cultural and social characteristics of the enclave, will be kept for 50 years. So reads that agreement, later joined by another document, the Basic Law that constitutes a kind of mini-constitution. This was approved by the National Peoples Congress of China in 1993.
After the 'Carnation revolution' of 1974 in Portugal, this country proposed to hand over Macau to the People's Republic of China as it was giving independence to most of its colonies. Beijing rejected the immediate possession of the enclave but later agreed on a transitional period similar to the one agreed with the British for Hong Kong.
During the transitional period the government launched the construction of big public works like the port, airport and a new bridge. Some of these where concessioned to Portuguese companies that, however, did not have a competitive economical capacity to remain in the territory after they finished those projects.

The PLA is coming!

During these last years the questions of the transition discussed in the Luso-Chinese Joint-Liaison Group were not always pacific, although much quieter than the one's in the Hong Kong process.
The Chinese insisted on the localization of the laws, language and civil service, which in the opinion of many observers was done quite late by the Portuguese government. On their side the Chinese used a false question like the financial reserves of the enclave to gain points in the discussion. In fact the Basic Law does not refer to any reserve but Macau has a Land Fund of 8.8 billion patacas that will be transferred to the SAR.
The insistence of the Chinese on the coming of the People's Liberation Army, even before the handover, created also some conflicts. Unlike the former British colony of Hong Kong, Macau does not have a garrison since 1975. So the Portuguese where not keen on a military ceremony. Jorge Sampaio, the Portuguese president, even threatened not to attend the ceremony. But after Jiang Zemin's visit to Lisbon, in October, the two parts agreed on the coming of an advanced team of PLA officials on December 15 to prepare the big military demonstration of December 20, when more than 1000 soldiers will be marching in with all the usual pomp. A show off of Chinese sovereignty that makes many locals quite nervous. But although China would like their army to come immediately after the red and green flag goes down, the Portuguese only agreed on it's entrance well after Jorge Sampaio leaves the enclave.
The question of triad criminality was also used by the Chinese to exert pressure in the JLG. The arrest of Wan Kuok Koi "Broken Tooth", head of the 14 K triad, was seen as an answer by the Portuguese. However, his sentencing to 15 years last November, with lack of proofs, by a polemic judge in what is considered a political trial, leaves a precedent and some questions to what kind of justice will prevail in the future.

The next 'governor'

General Vasco Rocha Vieira is the last governor of Macau. He was the Minister of the Republic in Azores where he did not leave many sympathies before being appointed by president Mário Soares in 1991, following the fall from grace of governor Carlos Melancia, accused of corruption. Rocha Vieira has been accused of lack of transparency and ceding too easily to the Chinese. He also developed quite a bad relationship with the press.
Edmund Ho will take over as the new chief of the executive. He was appointed by a selection committee of 200 members and chose a government of five under-secretaries, all quite young and previously working for the local administration. He is the sun of Ho Yin, Chinese businessman that insured the connection between Macau and Beijing when there were no diplomatic ties between Portugal and China. Edmund Ho studied in Canada is a banker and was the vice-president of the Legislative Assembly and the head of the Land Fund. His choice was welcomed by most of the population and high hopes reside in his straightforwardness and in his young team.

The citizens' opinion

Echoing the concerns of most of the Chinese population, the lack of control over triad crime is pointed out by Catarina Mok as the biggest failure of this administration. "The corruption of the police and the lack of a strategy on the part of the government are the causes", offers the journalist and lecturer of the University of Macau. But worst than this situation that threatens an otherwise pacific city is "the lack of transparency of the government", she says. "The citizens are never informed on how it is dealing with the problems", she goes on saying. An attitude she hopes will change with the next administration.
Gary Ngay, who came to Macau after working for the Chinese government and who was condemned to forced labor for being an intellectual, is nowadays the president of the Sino-Latin Foundation. He has another perspective on the big issue of crime in the enclave. "The regional government of Guangzhou is infiltrated by triads. That is why the province has a new governor: the other one was accused of corruption for mingling with triads. Of course that reflects in Macau's society".
For this political observer the real danger that threatens the territory is the lack education that may transform the territory in just another Chinese city. "The government did not do enough for education. The fact many students go to study in China and Taiwan shows the lack of identity of the population of Macau." A mobile population and the departure of the Portuguese may increase that negative tendency, according to this intellectual.
José Simões Morais, artist, criticizes precisely the administration for not creating conditions for the Portuguese to stay and help build the SAR further. "There was never a structure in terms of teaching of Portuguese language and higher education that allowed for the permanence of the Portuguese. Concerning the their descendants, the big concrete construction works are good for nothing: they will stay here in poverty, abandoned, as they were left in other parts of Asia", the artist criticizes.
Carlos Morais José, journalist and writer points out the same aspect: the lack of education that did not allow for the populations to mingle in a more intercultural way. "We did not learn much from Chinese culture and they did not learn much from the Portuguese one. How can we explain that there isn't a Sinology Institute in Macau or that most of the University courses are dedicated to management and business?" he asks.
Gary Ngay is less pessimistic. "Our understanding is much better than in Hong Kong because we have been living together for over 400 years". An opinion that is supported by the fact that there where much less conflicts in the transition of Macau then in the Hong Kong one. Also the recent creation of a Sinology Center in Vila Real, Portugal, shows not all is lost, he says. Still Gary Ngay insists that, if Macau does not affirm its identity, it will loose the special characteristics it still has. And economy is a way to keep them. "Sixty percent of the government's budget comes from gambling. The economy was not diversified. If all our industry transferred to China what would happen?"
Gabriela César, former director of the Economics Department and president of the Foundation for Development and Cooperation, is of the same opinion. "We made Macau a free and opened market where there is competition and discipline but we did not get many results when we tried to diversify the economy", she admits. Again, the lack of education of the population is to blame since, apart from textile factories, other industries which demand a high level of skills do not find skilled workers were.
Being a Macanese, Gabriela César is not happy with the solution that was found by the JLG for the question of the nationality of this cultural group, the result of the miscigenization between Portuguese, Malay, Goanese and Chinese over centuries. The Macanese have the right to opt for the Chinese nationality and they have to do so if they want to have the same right as Chinese to ascend to higher positions in administration. "Which means the one's who want to keep Portuguese nationality, the one most identify with, will be foreigners in their own land".
However, not the all the aspects of the handover are negative. "Most of the population is Chinese and I think they are happy to have a Chinese administration", says Catarina Mok. "But what is necessary is that the next government thinks on behalf of the citizens of Macau, Chinese, Macanese and Portuguese instead of just following China's interests", she goes on. "I would not like to see my children having to abandon Macau", she concludes.


Vá a e procure:

Macau: Doubt, Nostalgia as Clock Ticks Toward Handover       15/12/99

Politics - Macau: Chinese Troops Entry Seals Handover            20/12/99

Rascunho deste take:

Clara Gomes

The otherwise pacific Macau handover was overshadowed by the crackdown of a demonstration by Falungong members. A fact that creates worries about the future of the freedom of religion and expression in the territory.


When the Portuguese flag went down in the Praia Grande Palace, Rocha Vieira the last Governor of Macau could not avoid an expression of sadness. Behind him, the president of the Legislative Assembly and members of the last Portuguese government tried to control their tears, while in the back the population cried "Viva Portugal".
Emotional was also the departure of Rocha Vieira and family from what was their home for almost nine years, the Santa Sancha Palace:servants could not avoid shedding tears while embracing the governor's wife, Leonor Rocha Vieira and their three sons.
After, the farewell turned into a more joyful mood with a colourful show of lights and poetry near the river, representing the arrival of the Portuguese in this part of the world, the 442 years of mutual understanding and the bright and prosperous future, that supposedly awaits Macau.
A reception in a venue near the new Cultural Centre was the stage for the speeches of the President of Portugal and the Governor. Rocha Vieira used the words of the famous poet Fernando Pessoa to invoke the deeds of the Portuguese sailors that arrived in these waters over 450 years ago.
After a short meeting between the two heads of state, Jorge Sampaio and Jiang Zemin, all the dignitaries prepared themselves for the crucial moment of the handover ceremonies: the substitution of the red and green flag of Portugal and blue flag of Leal Senado - the Macau municipality - by the Peoples Republic of China red flag and the Special Administrative Region of Macau (SARM) green flag with a lotus flower. In the Lantern Pavilion, created specially for the event, Presidents, Prime ministers and other high representatives of both countries saw the members of the three corps of the Portuguese and Chinese army lower the flags of the departing Portuguese and raise the new ones after being presented to their respective presidents.
The defence of the residents rights established by the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, as well as the autonomy of the territory was the key tone of Jorge Sampaio speech." The territory's inhabitants will continue to enjoy the rights, liberties and guarantees that are the heritage of their way of life and which led to this land's individuality and prosperity", the President said.
When listening to the Portuguese anthem Jorge Sampaio showed a visibly emotional expression. After the Chinese and Macau flags went up Jiang Zemin spoke referring the one country two systems concept initiated by Deng Xiaoping and under which Hong Kong, in 1997, and now Macau, reverted to China sovereignty. He also stressed the importance of these two transitions to the Taiwan question that is the unification of the nationalist island with the mainland. A question that still seems quite difficult to solve in the near future.
Meanwhile, in streets of Macau the population and thousands of tourists commemorated the event. All over town handover decorations where mixed with Christmas and millennium lights and lanterns. In Largo do Senado, the main town square, after a show of dance and music that went on for several hours, thousands of people saw the lowering and raising of the flags in a big screen, with in respectful way, some showing a certain nostalgia, but all in a happy cheerful mood.

Crackdown on Falungong demonstrators

However the happy and peaceful ambience of the transition of sovereignty for Chinese rule was overshadowed by a protest by members of Falungong a "heretic sect" according to Beijing. The gathering was fast ended by police. Although security measures were very tight, with the cutting of all the streets around the venues where the main events took place that created protests by shop owners and residents, some members of the persecuted sect were able to elude the Macau costumes that possessed a black list with their names. In the morning of the eve of handover day they created a small demonstration of around 30 people in front of the Lisboa Hotel. The sect members were carrying out exercises and meditation to Buddhist music when four of them were detained by police that also tried to prevent journalists and photographers from approaching the area. The demonstrators did not apply for an authorization for the protest, so police acted within the law, but the fact that Falungong members were not allowed to leave Hong Kong towards Macau and that some where prevented to enter the territory, created concerns about the freedom of expression and freedom of religious practice that the Basic Laws of both the SAR's are supposed to upheld. Despite that threat, today's pro-Beijing local media editorials insisted on a crack down on the sect showing a lack of concern of most of Macau's population for their own rights. A big percentage of the population is made of recent immigrants with little identification with Portugal or Macau's way of life.
This small incident is a sad reminder of the fact that certain rights were not well protected by Macau's laws. The law on the right to demonstrate, after though opposition in the Legislative Assembly, was finally passed, but the right to strike and the creation of political parties were not legislated upon. The Government, which had the power to decide upon the ruling of this rights, did not want to do it, leaving the task to the legislative body that - with a majority of pro- Chinese hard line members ended up not regulating these matters. It seems the Government only defended the rights that did not interfere in its interests or that would not have a big opposition by Beijing.
Despite this, there was the extension of United Nations Pacts to Macau. However, because the additional protocol was not published here, citizens' protests may not reach the UN committee in Genebra.
Nevertheless, a positive note comes from the fact that, as proposed by the departing Governor, the European Union is creating a committee to check how the next SAR Government will comply with the Sino-Portuguese Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, the region's mini-constitution.
However a negative legacy of the Portuguese administration, which may interfere with the defence of Macau people's rights and freedoms, is the weak judicial system. The Court of Final Appeal was not established, most of the Codes (Code of Penal Proceedings, Commercial Code etc.) where only recently published and the teaching of Law in the University of Macau began only ten years ago. Thus the Portuguese do not leave a consistent jurisprudence.
That may be a problem for the continuation of the present way of life, together with a late localization of the administration officials, due in part to a lack of higher education schools. With the coming of 150 thousand new immigrants from China to occupy COTAI, a new development project between Taipa and Coloane islands, the system inherited from the Portuguese may not last long. Neither do the special identity of Macau, with the departure of Portuguese and Macanese, or even its autonomy. As Carlos Melancia, a former Governor, put it, although the Basic Law protects the autonomy for 50 years, there will have to be conditions to enforce it. Conditions that the Portuguese may not have left.
Whether the weak laws, rights and guarantees left by the Portuguese as well as Macau's way of life will be respected and upheld in the future remains to be seen.

Edmund Ho sworn in

Edmund Ho, the Chief-Executive and his Government of five, as well as the representatives of other public institutions of Macau were sworn in by Jiang Zemin in a session in the Forum of Macau, in the early hours of December 20, after the Portuguese representatives had already left to Bangkok, a short stop before their official visit to Timor-Lorosae. Xanana Gusmao the representative of the resistance of the new country and expected President, was present in the Macau handover and accompanied the Portuguese delegation that left in an Air Macau plane.
Through out the night the symbols of the Portuguese Republic where substituted by those of the PRC and the SAR. Policemen stamped the new symbols in their bikes and workers of Leal Senado, now called only Provisional Municipality of Macau, since the previous municipal system will end in one year, took the symbols of Portugal and the quote of arms of Leal Senado down and hanged in the new lotus flower symbols.
Five hundred soldiers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) will enter the territory at noon through Portas do Cerco, the border with the neighbour city of Zhuhai. The coming of the PLA created a dispute in the JLG, since Portugal does not have a garrison in Macau since 1975. However, after Jiang Zemin's visit to Portugal in October, it was agreed the soldiers could come, but well after the Portuguese representatives were gone. Some people believe the PLA will give security to the population after three years of triad wars that left 80 dead. Nevertheless, the Chinese army has no power to police the territory and its presence cannot be more than a reminder of who the new sovereign is. Part of the population even fears that the soldiers will only bring with them the corruption that the PLA became known for in China.