Macao leader thanks mainland for 'solid backing'

08:57, December 15, 2009      

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Macao Chief Executive Edmund Ho has attributed the "miraculous" economic growth of the special administrative region (SAR) to the "one country, two systems" policy and the economic boom on the Chinese mainland.

During an interview prior to the 10th anniversary of Macao's return to the motherland, Ho thanked the central government for its solid backing to the region since Dec 20, 1999, saying such support has helped Macao meet multiple challenges and overcome many difficulties, ranging from the SARS epidemic in 2003 to the current global financial crisis.

Macao's development "has benefited 100 percent from the soaring growth of the motherland" in the past decade, he said, adding the situation would have been completely different if the return had taken place 30 or 40 years ago.

The special administrative region suffered an economic downturn for four consecutive years before its return to the motherland.

The regional government coffers then had a meager 2.4 billion patacas ($300 million) left by the Portuguese, and most of the government officials were young and inexperienced in running the SAR.

The plight had led Ho to claim jokingly that "the SAR started not from scratch (zero), but from a negative number".

But in the years that followed, Macao embarked on a fast track of economic development, helped mainly by the Close Economic Partnership Arrangement with the mainland, which gives tariff-free treatment to Macao's exports of products and services.

The SAR has kept an average growth rate of more than 15 percent each year for the past 10 years.

Its per capita gross domestic product now stands at $39,000 - nearly three times the 1999 figure - making Macao second only to Japan in Asia, and one of the richest regions in the world.

"The central government has always tried to help Macao, and has refrained from intervening in its internal affairs. I express my sincere thanks for that," Ho said.

In 2003, when the SARS epidemic scared away travelers from Hong Kong and Macao, dealing a heavy blow to the local tourism market, the central government rolled out the individual travelers' plan.

This allowed mainland residents to visit the two cities on their own instead of in groups organized by travel agencies.

The continuous swarms of big-spending tourists from the mainland have since uplifted the local tourism sector and retail industry.

"Now more than half of the visitors to Macao are mainlanders," Ho said.

In the latest move, the central government approved on Nov 29 a proposal by the Macao government for a 3.61 sq km land reclamation project, which Ho said would "inject new impetus" into the sustainable development of the local economy.

"Macao has very limited land resources. We will use the new land to improve people's living environment and upgrade educational and public health facilities.

The project will also help Macao diversify its economic structure," Ho said.

Macao, which does not have jurisdiction over its coastal waters, currently has a land area of 29.2 sq km.

The land reclamation project will increase its land area by more than 12 percent.

The gaming industry now accounts for about 70 percent of the local economy.

To achieve sustainable development, the SAR government has pledged to diversify by focusing more on tourism, exhibition and creative industries.

Ho said 10 years are still too short a time span to testify to the success of the "one country, two systems" policy.

But "what's important is that people in Macao have confidence in such a policy".

"Their confidence stems from the fact that people have all benefited substantially from the policy in the past 10 years," Ho said.

Ho will step down as chief executive after his second tenure expires on Dec 19.

Chief-executive-elect Fernando Chui Sai On, approved by the central government, is scheduled to take office on Dec 20.

Source: China Daily
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