These young people, what do they feel is the downside of having Beijing in charge? It makes us – It doesn’t make us stronger. I mean the people. It makes us in the fringe of the game of power. Hi, welcome to China Uncensored, I’m your host Chris Chappell.
I’m here in Macau, China’s other Special Administrative Region. Like neighboring Hong Kong, Macau is supposed to be run under China’s One Country, Two Systems policy. And like with Hong Kong, the one country thing is definitely true, but the two systems part—less so.
But unlike in Hong Kong, the democratic movement here in Macau is small. Most people seem content to let the Communist Party have its way in exchange for economic prosperity. You know that draconian anti-subversion law, Article 23, that half a million Hong Kongers protested against in 2003? Well, in Macau, it was passed in 2009 without much fuss. Dissidents here, perhaps even more so than in Hong Kong, are fighting an uphill battle against the status quo. So naturally, I just had to come here and talk with someone who shares my passion for uphill battles against the status quo.
I sat down with Scott Chiang, President of the New Macau Association, a major pro-democracy NGO in Macau. Thanks for joining me, Scott. Why don’t you tell us about the New Macau Association.
Well, it’s been one of the, uh, People says it’s a flagship democratic association in Macau. I don’t know. We’ve been here since the early 90s.
It’s founded by a bunch of very passionate people who care about the future of Macau because it’s just before the handover and it’s just after what happened in ’89 in Tainanmen Square. And people genuinely concerned about our future under Chinese rule. Younger generation – I’m part of it – emerges in the recent years, and we want to make democrats – true democrats – survive in Macau in the coming generations. So this organization has been around for a long time. How have you seen the situation in Macau change since the handover in 1999?
Macau has been in ruins in my childhood. The 90s is not one of our brightest hours. So the expectation was low in the time of handover. This is in contrast to what happened in Hong Kong. And soon after that, we have the opening up of the casino industry.
And that, adding up with the lot people, tourists, coming from mainland China, gave us what is called the Golden Decade. Well now we have the GDP exceeding many developed countries. And yes, that set a lot of people very satisfied. And that also denied a lot of chance that we actually had to fight for our own rights because people said, “Oh, we’re having a good time, so why don’t we shut up, and enjoy it while it lasts?” So people feel things are better now, under Communist rule?
Naturally. And when they acknowledged the good times come from mainland tourists, and they will think again, when they try to criticize China or the local government, even – because they know they have the endorsement of Beijing, and they know that Macau’s fate, in their mind, is in the hands of the privileged – not in themselves. I have to say that, sadly, that’s the truth about many local people.
The younger generation are feeling more strongly and strongly and strongly that they need to have a say in what goes on in their town. So I still see hope in that. These young people, what do they feel is the downside of having Beijing in charge? It makes us – It doesn’t make us stronger.
I mean the people. It makes us in the fringe of the game of power. That is one of the things we want to fight against.
To change people’s minds and show them, no, when you fight it, you may stand a chance. But if you just sit home and wait, nothing will happen. So how does the political situation in Macau compare to Hong Kong? Macau has a very robust apolitical tradition, so to say, because not that people are not talking about politics. They do, and they may know more than you might suspect. But they fail to connect what is in the news and what they need to do to change it.
They may be very openly criticizing Obama. They may have a strong opinion against Trump. But they wouldn’t be the same open and vocal, criticizing personnel when it comes to local politics. Yes, they may complain in local cafes about this and that, the traffic, housing price… But when you say, “Hey, why don’t we do something change that?” They say, “Nah, it doesn’t work. I’ve been around more than you – longer than you.
And I know they don’t work.” That is the general sentiment, at least for the older generations. And that sentiment shaped the fate of Macau for the last decades. How about the younger generation? The younger generation? We are more… We are better educated.
And many of my friends, when they have the chance to go abroad, and get a job there, they choose not to go back because they know Macau is not suitable for them or for their offspring. But for those who return, I believe there is hope in them because when they had the chance, and they choose to return to their hometown, I expect more from them when it comes to, you know, changing the place for the better. So how has the implementation of Article 23 in 2009 changed Macau?
Well, may I disappoint you in saying, “business as usual?” Sometimes even we didn’t realize, oh, it’s already here for quite some years. Yeah, the thing is, when you talk to people saying, “Oh, this law is bad because it diminished civil liberty, it gives the administration too much power, it makes criminal charges against, you know, freedom of speech -“ And people say, “what are you afraid of, if you’re not going to overthrow Beijing?” Nonetheless, it is harmful to civil society. But pretty much nobody listened, unlike in Hong Kong.
So do you think Macau still has the One Country, Two System policy? In the first part, I’m pretty confident. And I understand you were recently interviewed by police after a protest earlier this year. Which interview do you mean? How many?
Are you concerned for your safety? I lost count, actually. Am I safe in this room? Should I be seen with you?
Well, you film it. I guess that’s true. I should’ve thought about that. No, as I told you, we were relatively safe, or not worried by those up there because we are weak in comparison to our counterparts in Hong Kong. We do not constitute a critical minority in the house of legislation. And we don’t mobilize as much as those in Hong Kong.
And how do you feel about that perceived weakness? It is not just “perceived.” It is backed by hard fact. And that is both a blessing and curse, right? Being weak is not a good thing, but then it kinda protected you from a lot of attacks.
And oftentimes we think to ourselves, “Have we been doing the utmost that we can do?” We are pretty much the leading democrats in Macau. There’s not much competition there. Is it because we are doing good enough, or is it because it’s not a very attractive career path?
Then we have to remind ourselves that we have to do better than we have been. Being weak can be a motivation. What is your hope for the future of Macau? Well as I told you, the younger generation has a lot of potential. Information is easier to obtain now.
It’s harder to keep your people blind and deaf from what’s happening outside. And what’s happening in Hong Kong and Taiwan has been a very, very, very visual alarm for people in Macau. Some people will take that as an alert, saying “we shall not move to that direction. Macau is no place for extremists.” But then younger generation will see opportunities, saying we may not need to do the same thing, but we can, nonetheless, take things into our own hands instead of putting it up to somebody else.
Well thank you again. That was Scott Chiang, president of the New Macau Association.