Translated by SC
Translated by SC
In Hong Kong, an unemployed man who attacked three people at with a knife out of political disagreements was praised by a judge for his “noble sentiments”, sparking controversy in society. In Macau, similar nonsensical court judgments had already appeared a year ago.
“Landmark verdicts make great changes.” This is how Ieong Meng U, assistant professor at the Department of Politics and Public Administration of the University of Macau, described the situation of Macau. In September 2019, a group of Macau people were angry that the Hong Kong police used violence with the excuse of “stopping violence and preventing riots”, so they planned a demonstration against police brutality in Hong Kong.
Many may overlook that, thanks to the democratization of Portugal in 1974, Macau’s provisions on public assemblies are the most enlightened of the four places on both sides of the Strait. If people want to hold a demonstration, they must notify the police (Editor’s note: Before 2018, people had to notify the Home Affairs Department. Now they must inform the police). No “no objection notice” is required. The police have no right to stop the demonstration unless they believe it is illegal. This time, the organizers were informed by the police that the demonstration was not allowed because the demonstrators slandered the Hong Kong police. According to the court, the theme of the demonstration was “an unjustified accusation unsupported by facts”.
Dissatisfied with the verdict, the organizers appealed to the court. Ieong studied the matter and found that the relevant departments had banned more than 20 marches in Macau, and each time the court technically analysed whether the authorities were doing things by the book, “but this time, half of the verdicts are very strange!”
The judge has become a “key opinion leader” supporting the Hong Kong police.
In the judgment, the judge went to great lengths to explain how police brutality in Hong Kong had been created out of thin air: “To date, no authority or supervisory body of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has confirmed or found that the Hong Kong police have used excessive force.” On the contrary, the protesters had “taken illegal and criminal actions that have seriously affected the rule of law in Hong Kong, seriously affected people’s livelihood and jeopardized security, details of which I would not go into great details here.”
That judge in Macau has become a “pro-police KOL” and talked about politics. He later invoked the Constitution of the PRC, stressing that Macau cannot “interfere in the internal affairs of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”. The final word: the rally was justifiably banned.
How can a demonstration in Macau, originally planned for 15 people with only placards as props, interfere in Hong Kong affairs? Not only was Ieong Meng U out of his depth, but there was also a person as confused as Ieong. “The three-judge trial resulted in a 2:1 result. Two Chinese judges were in favor and one Portuguese judge against. Afterwards, it was very rare that the Portuguese judge requested his vote against the ban be recorded into the judgment, making historical records to prove that he had voted against the ban.” The Portuguese judge confessed that he did not see any justification for the prohibition of demonstrations by the Macau police in accordance with the law.
In recent years, Hong Kong and Macau have often been referred to as the “bad kid” and “good kid” of “one country, two systems”. Ieong pointed out that since the outbreak of the anti-extradition movement, Beijing has become increasingly nervous about national security in the two SARs. It has not just tightened its grip on Hong Kong, but also Macau the good kid. Apart from this case, the Cyber Security Law was implemented in Macau in December last year. People have to be registered with their real names if they use the Internet. In addition, the “secret police” was introduced this year. The earlier Article 23 legislation and the General Law on Civil Defence (or the “Civil Defence Law”) have formed a wide net over on the “good children” which tries to prevent him from turning bad.
“The changes in Macau in recent years can be seen as a reference for the Central Government’s future plans in Hong Kong.” Having studied at Peking University and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Ieong Meng U, a native of Macau, is familiar with the situation in Macau, Hong Kong and China. He now focuses on Macau studies. For years, he has explored what an ordinary person can do if he/she is in conflict with an authoritarian government. The ending of the “unimproved” Hong Kong is not yet known, but what can transform Macau?
His answer is simple: emigration.
According to many people, the “12.3 Incident” in 1966 (editor’s note: Cultural Revolution spread to Hong Kong and Macau in the 1960s. Communist groups attempted to seize the power of the two colonial governments through an “anti-colonial and patriotic struggle”) forced the Macau administration and the Portuguese government apologize and let the communists control the town. Since then, Macau has become a “semi-liberated area”, where people are politically apathetic and only care about their personal interests. Ieong cited Macau scholar Li Chin-Peng’s 2018 book Invisible Macau and claimed that Macau people do have a local consciousness and are actually willing to fight for local culture, just like what people did in the Lighthouse Incident in 2007.
On top of Guia Hill on the Macau Peninsula lies the Guia Lighthouse, a symbol of Portuguese maritime history. It was named as a United Nations World Heritage Site in 2005. This was supposed to be a happy event, but in the same year, the Macau government relaxed the land restrictions over the land lots near the lighthouse, green-lighting the construction of tall buildings which may block the view of the lighthouse. One of these tall buildings was the Liaison Office Building. Some Macau people understood the issue and protested against the plan. Ieong recalled that, in 2007, the incident rose to the international level. The Liaison Office had to make a compromise after the United Nations had communicated with Beijing on the matter.
However, the happy story was just the beginning. What followed was simply farcical. The “compromise” of the Liaison Office was to reduce the height of the building from 99.9m to 88m. The building was shorter, but still blocked the view of the lighthouse.
The conservationists did not accept the “false promises” and continued with their protests, but unfortunately, the Macau government no longer took the matter seriously. As a result, the Liaison Office Building stands tall. Other property developers follow suit and ignore the height restriction and the lighthouse. The government responded: “Those tall buildings had already been built anyway, so let’s just finish the construction work and leave them alone.”
This is the helplessness of Macau. In the interview, Ieong pointed out the three major shortcomings of Macau and explained why Macau people appear to be more defenseless than Hong Kong people when facing the local and the Chinese governments.
There is a lot of infighting in the pro-establishment camp of Hong Kong.
First, the population of Macau is too small. Macau has the nickname of “Macau Street” because it has a population of just over 600,000, which is as small as a street. What does a small town with a little population mean? “Imbalanced industries and easy control of the community.”
The so-called “promising and lucrative jobs” in Macau come from casinos, banks, property developers, universities and the government, said Ieong. According to the employment statistics for the fourth quarter of 2019, these sectors accounted for 220,000 of the nearly 390,000 people (about 56%) in Macau’s workforce. The common feature of these sectors is that they all want to do business with the Macau government or even the Chinese government, so the “red economy circle” is deeply rooted. “So what would you do if the government targeted a corporate employee and you were the boss? The answer speaks for itself.”
Since the anti-extradition movement in Hong Kong last year, Cathay Pacific has sacked its employees for their political views, stirring up a huge social uproar. In fact, similar things took place in Macau some 20 years ago. “I often talk about the two veteran pro-democracy lawmakers in Macau: Goh Guok Cheong and Au Kam Sun. Goh was a Bank of China employee in the 1990s but was sacked for his political views. Au Kam Sun, a teacher in a school run by a pro-establishment association, was also fired for his political views,” he said. “In Macau, when your ideologies and actions go against the government, you suffer financial losses.”
“In Macau, when your ideologies and actions go against the government, you suffer financial losses.”
Moreover, apart from an imbalanced economy, the composition of the establishment is also imbalanced. The establishment in Macau, comprised of people like the Stanley Ho family well-known to Hong Kong people (now headed by Angela Leong), and the Golden Dragon Group leader Chan Ming Kam (founder of the Macau United Citizens Association), is closely associated with the gambling industry. “So in Macau, it’s unimaginable to have a figure like James Tien, who suddenly became a hero of Hong Kong people in 2003.”
In recent years, James Tien, the honorary chairman of the Liberal Party, has faded away from the political circle. James Tien has been known for being a “bad boy” in the establishment. In the eyes of Ieong, Tien is an example showing that the pro-establishment camp in Hong Kong is completely united. In 2003, when Article 23 legislation was proposed, the Liberal Party jumped ship. Party leader James Tien resigned from the Executive Council. Ieong argued that the defections were related to identity issues, and that middle-class values could not be exchanged for money alone. Supporters of the Liberal Party were mainly from the middle class, so things like votes and money had to be considered when making decisions.
He added that the difference between the Hong Kong and Macau establishments also lies in the level of business competition. The 2012 Chief Executive Election underscored the fierce competition and huge disputes between the first and second-tier developers in Hong Kong. In those days, Henry Tang was once regarded as a hot pick for the position. He was supported by top developers like Li Ka-shing (Cheung Kong-Hutchison), the Kwoks (Sun Hung Kai), Lee Shau-kee (Henderson) and Gordon Wu (Hopewell), but he lost unexpectedly. In the end, backed by second-tier developers like Ronnie Chan (Hang Lung) and Vincent Lo (Shui On) who “vied for the top spot”, Leung Chun-ying won the race.
Recently, the two former chief executives of Hong Kong, Tung Chee-hwa and Leung Chun-ying, as well as Tam Yiu-chung, formed the “Hong Kong Coalition”, which aims to re-integrate the pro-establishment elites, but Ieong Meng U stressed that the elites in the establishment of Hong Kong are still “divided” internally – which explains why Hong Kong and Macau differ in terms of stability.
Meanwhile, professionals in Macau have long been silent on sensitive issues. “In Hong Kong, professionals immediately criticize the government if it pushes for unconvincing policies. On the contrary, there has been a lack of high-quality public debates in Macau. Whenever the government proposes a draft or gives an opinion, most people neither follow it nor have the ability to discuss it.” Take the “Macau Citywide Electronic Monitoring System” (commonly known as the “sky-eye system”), which has been implemented since 2016, as an example. The authorities planned to install 1,620 cameras with human face-recognition system throughout the city. The plan has not triggered any debate or discussion, public or private, in Macau because the professionals have kept their mouths shut. In the mainstream, we can only see remarks like “there’s nothing to be afraid of if you’re not a criminal”, but in the end, this measure was passed almost without any opposition.
Installing face-recognition devices could make an international news story in Hong Kong, but why was the plan passed without much opposition in Macau? Apart from the silent professionals, the international community has not shown much interest in Macau. According to Ieong, there are only two kinds of international media coverage on Macau: first, Xi Jinping’s official visit to Macau to mark the 20th anniversary of the city’s reunification, and second, scandals like Macau businessmen suspected of bribing UN officials, “The international image of Macau has been very bad!”
Based on these three shortcomings, Xi can do whatever he likes in Macau in the new era.
Since assuming the presidency in 2013, Xi Jinping’s concept on “overall national security” has had a profound impact on Macau. Unlike the “national security concept” of his predecessors, his on national security includes not only metaphysical ideas like territorial integrity and national unity, but also 11 kinds of security unseen before, like security in society, science and technology, cyberspace and culture. All these cover most scopes of life. In addition, Xi added an new directive: residents of Hong Kong and Macau are equally obliged to uphold national security.
Indeed, the Central Government feels comfortable with Macau the “good boy”, while Article 23 legislation could not be passed in Hong Kong the “bad boy”. In 2009, the legislature passed the Article 23 legislation. In the legislature of Macau, less than half of the lawmakers are directly elected (only 14 seats in the current direct election, 12 seats in the indirect election and 7 seats appointed). What Macau did has even been praised by Beijing, and Macau appeared to be very tactful. At the beginning of Xi’s rule, Beijing did not plan to make great changes to Macau. Ieong recalled that before 2014, the court had dodged the emerging politically sensitive issues and did not take proactive actions like it did last year.
Back then, people in both Hong Kong and Macau were equally eager to end the “small-circle” elections. People in Macau held an unprecedented civil referendum in August 2014, hoping to give Macau people an opportunity to express their views on how the Chief Executive should be elected, but the government stopped it. The rhetoric that the Macau government used is like that of the “landmark” judgement in 2019: the referendum “challenged and undermined the constitutional system of the PRC and the Basic Law”.
The organizers of the referendum then appealed, and the case finally went to the Court of Final Appeal. Three Chinese judges heard the case. After examining the case in detail, they pointed out that the referendum was not an “assembly”, so there was no existing law to regulate it. By a vote of 2:1, the court ruled that it had no authority to hear the case. As a result, the offline campaign was banned, but the referendum was still held online. Of the 8,688 participants, 8,259 (or 95%) supported electing the Chief Executive through a general election. This was like huge blow to Fernando Chui, who was re-elected with 95% of the 400 members of the Election Committee in 2014.
A month after the referendum, the Umbrella Movement broke out in Hong Kong and affected both Hong Kong and Macau. Ieong said, “After the Umbrella Movement, the Central Government placed special emphasis on national security. The Macau government followed the national policy, so Macau indirectly formed a series of policies to tighten social control.” That includes control over the rule of law in Macau.
There are two ways for Beijing to tighten its control over Macau. The first is known as “the devil in small details”. In 2017, typhoon Hato caused flooding and serious damages to infrastructure in Macau. Ten people were killed and 244 injured. As a result, the government punished the leaders of Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau. They included the then Deputy Director Leong Ka-ching, who was accused by the media of superstitious practices in her Bureau. Furthermore, the Macau government also drafted the Civil Defense Law in 2018 which the legislature passed in 2019. The law aimed to increase Macau’s capacity to handle crises, but some provisions are seen to be plots to “maintain stability”. Section 25 of the law prohibits the spread of false news which causes panic during a public crisis. It is an arrestable offence. Upon conviction, offenders are punishable by a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment.
Although the Portuguese community in Macau reacted greatly to the law and forced the government to make some amendments, the “anti-rumour law” remained unchanged. Moreover, according to the law, “security emergencies” include “social security incidents” like internal security and economic affairs. The provision does not give any specific example. Demonstrations are always in the grey area. So why did the people feel panic? The regulations are not properly explained. As Ieong stressed in an earlier interview, the language used in the provision is vague, “If these key terms are not clearly defined, objectively speaking, there will be restrictions on speech”. As a result, “civil defence” may become “defence against the people”.
The other way for Beijing to tighten its control over Macau is the red terror in the legal circle, such as the Paulo Cardinal and Paulo Taipa affairs in 2018. The two Portuguese lawyers were senior advisors of the legislature. Having served in the legislature since 1992, Paulo Cardinal was the most senior among the two. He was an outspoken lawyer who often criticized the Macau government for taking actions contradictory to the Basic Law. Outside the legislature, he often took part in civil movements and commented on issues like “one country, two systems”, human rights and the rule of law in Macau. Recently, Cardinal published an article entitled “Rule of Law Resilience: Comparative Perspectives from Macau” to compare the concepts of “two systems” in Hong Kong and Macau. His article appeared in Margaret Ng’s China’s National Security: Endangering Hong Kong’s Rule of Law?, a book which explains legal concepts for journalists.
However, in August 2018, Cardinal and Taipa were told by the government, without prior warning, that their contracts would not be renewed. They left at the end of 2018.
Although the then President of the Legislative Council, Ho Iat Seng, insisted that the decision was made to give the two lawyers the space to start their own business. But the most ridiculous thing is that the two have been rendered unemployable. No law firm in Macau dares to hire them, not to mention starting their own business. The local Portuguese-language media quoted insiders as saying that the legal circle knows very well that the two are highly competent and well-connected, but they cannot be touched because of “complicated” reasons: law firms do not want to cause any misunderstanding with the Macau establishment, especially Ho Iat Seng, the incumbent Chief Executive.
Eight months after the affairs, Paulo Cardinal spoke for the first time, admitting that he was “an unheard voice” in Macau, so he could be “a target for political purges”. Ieong said the two went to Portugal and were immediately hired by the Portuguese government. “But we have to know: Portuguese lawyers have plan B. But what about Chinese legal practitioners? Once they’re targeted, their career end.” The controversial ruling that “demonstrations in Macau interfere with Hong Kong’s internal affairs” was finally given at a time when the anti-extradition campaign was in full swing.
“It is harder to be good students be than bad ones. Bad students can make mistakes all the time, but good students can never err.” Therefore, since the anti-extradition movement has become a bargaining chip between China and the United States, Beijing has placed the national security of the SARs at an unprecedented height, putting a tighter grip on Macau than on Hong Kong.
The rapid changes occurred in Macau over the last half-year can be concluded as follows:
In September 2019, President of Macau’s Court of Final Appeal Sham Ho-fai said the judicial system could ensure “urban stability”. In December 2019, Xi Jinping visited Macau. The President and CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce and a number of Hong Kong journalists and social activists were refused entry for the first time. In the same month, the Network Security Law was implemented, and all mobile phone users were required to register in real names. In January 2020, the Macau government used the provisions on cybersecurity to expand the power of the Judicial Police in criminal investigations, adding that the maintenance of cybersecurity and national security is also their responsibility. The government even proposed to establish four additional departments related to intelligence collection, crime investigation, policy research and general affairs. At the same time, the government proposed to conceal the identity of some of the Judicial Police officers, whom the public sees as “secret cops”. In March 2020, the last phase of “sky-eye” surveillance system project was completed with 800 new face recognition cameras in service. In April 2020, Secretary for Security Wong Siu-tak said the surveillance system was so effective that he decided to add another 1,000 cameras in the next three years. In May, the Macau government pointed out that the 1989 pro-democracy exhibition “does not comply with the relevant guidelines”, meaning that the exhibition, which has been held for 30 years, will have to be cancelled.
Ieong fell victim to the rise of whistle-blowing and the tightening of policy. In October 2019, a university student claimed that Ieong, when discussing the now-defunct amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance in his “Politics in Hong Kong and Macau” course at the university, said Hong Kong people would still lack protection even if the Hong Kong government promised that no political fugitives would be sent to China. That student complained that his remarks “support the Hong Kong thugs and smear the righteous acts of the Hong Kong police” and that he was a “pro-independence evil prof”.
Beijing wants to “Singaporeanize” Hong Kong. To do so, it has to “Macauize” Hong Kong first.
“That student neither took my course nor attended my class. He/she got the PowerPoint slides from someone, then probably listened to what his/her friends who attended my class said, and speculated on what I may have said.” Although the incident has come to an end, Ieong still thinks the incident was total nonsense.
What is happening in Macau today, Ieong said, is part of the grand plan of the Central Government. “Beijing wants to ‘Singaporeanize’ Hong Kong. To do so, it has to ‘Macauize’ Hong Kong first.” “Singaporeanization” means that the Central Authorities still want to make Hong Kong an international arbitration centre where commercial disputes can be handled fairly, but human rights disputes in the city will be dealt with based solely on the preferences of the government. How? The executive has to be extremely powerful. With the cooperation of the legislature completely dominated by the establishment, all laws that the executive wants to pass will be passed. The judges must do what Beijing and the Hong Kong government have repeatedly stressed – “follow the rules”.
He admitted that the future of Hong Kong is an unknown, but what will the people in Macau do? According to Ieong, due to the inherent defects of the society, the construction of civil society in Macau will always be slower than the development of monitoring on the society by the Macau government. Macau people do not waste their time on “restarting Macau” or calling for “mutual destruction”. He said, “Macau people are very pragmatic. It is dangerous to speak out here, but they can always leave. Many have already left.” It is much easier for Macau people to emigrate than Hong Kong people. People born before 1981 are automatically entitled to Portuguese nationality and EU citizenship. If Macau came to an end, they could leave. On the contrary, most Hong Kong people do not have British nationality. This is a unique historical heritage of Macau.”