China prepares to celebrate Macau's return, readies troops to enter territory

Click to follow
The Independent Online

China celebrated its recovery of Macau midnight Sunday in a cascade of red flags and patriotic parties and readied troops to enter the newly returned territory soon after the Portuguese colony's rulers departed.

China celebrated its recovery of Macau midnight Sunday in a cascade of red flags and patriotic parties and readied troops to enter the newly returned territory soon after the Portuguese colony's rulers departed.

At a sendoff ceremony in Zhuhai city, General Zhang Wannian urged the 500 soldiers of the Macau garrison to respect the autonomy Beijing has promised the enclave while defending the newest parcel of Chinese territory, state media reported.

State television showed a column of armored personnel carriers, flatbed trucks and other vehicles outside the force's barracks in Zhuhai ready to carry the soldiers across the border at noon Monday (0400 GMT), 12 hours after Portugal ends 442 years of control and returns the territory to Beijing.

Zhang reiterated the order Chinese President Jiang Zemin signed late Saturday dispatching the garrison. Jiang told the People's Liberation Army force that it has "a sacred mission and a great responsibility" to preserve China's sovereignty and the stability of Macau.

China has treated garrisoning Macau as an important symbol of its rule, and Macau residents have welcomed the troops possible use in curbing gang wars over the territory's dwindling casino revenues. Their attitude contrasts with the wariness Hong Kong residents held 2 1-2 years ago toward the PLA garrison, which was under orders to keep a low profile.

Like the return of Hong Kong from Britain in mid-1997, Chinese leaders hope recovery of Macau will help the image of the ruling Communist Party and serve as a prod to rival Taiwan to begin talks on unification.

Parties, symposiums and flag-raising ceremonies were being held across China to celebrate the return. In the northern city of Lanfang, 50 people took part in a 1-kilometer (two-thirds of a mile) run in minus 9-degree weather (16 degrees Fahrenheit). "Celebrate Macau's return; Hope for the motherland's unification," read one banner the runners held, according to a Xinhua News Agency report.

Neighborhoods throughout Beijing put up red flags in a gesture of government-ordered patriotism.

Beijing planned the biggest celebrations with 30,000 carefully selected officials and citizens invited to attend a midnight gala in subfreezing weather in Tiananmen Square. Fireworks will arc over the square minutes into Monday as Portuguese officials formally hand over control of Macau in a ceremony broadcast live across China and on a big screen in Tiananmen.

"One by one from all parts of the land at the appointed hour, a clear sound will rise up like a great wave in the hearts of 1.2 billion Chinese sons and daughters," the party's flagship newspaper People's Daily said in a front-page article.

Celebrations were more muted than for Hong Kong, reflecting Macau's smaller size and relative insignificance in global affairs. Beijing geared up the Communist Party propaganda apparatus for two years to persuade its people that Hong Kong's return proved China's growing power.

Comments