Macau returns to the motherland with relief

PEKING was taking no chances yesterday as it prepared to assume control of the Portuguese enclave of Macau, throwing a blanket of security around the territory before the last vestige of colonialism in China is extinguished at midnight local time tonight (4pm British time) after close on 450 years.

By late yesterday, some 10,000 security officers and soldiers were waiting on the Chinese side of the border to back up Macau's 4,000-strong police force. With fears of possible disruptions from triad gangsters, pro-democracy advocates and members of the outlawed Falun Gong movement, Peking had even persuaded immigration officials in nearby Hong Kong to prevent potential troublemakers from boarding ferries for Macau.

But, just like Hong Kong's handover in mid-1997, the main dampener looks like being the weather. Unusually heavy rain for this time of year fell relentlessly, hampering efforts to get the last of Macau's flags and decorations in place. At the colourful temple of A-Ma, the patroness of seafarers after whom Macau is named, Macanese flocked to pray for good fortune in the future, starting with less rain. "It's the least we can do for such an important event," said Betty Guan, a housewife.

Crowds were so heavy that many were forced to queue outside the ancient temple in the pouring rain with their offerings of food, drink and incense. Their enthusiasm for a return to Chinese sovereignty appeared the rule rather than the exception, with most in the territory expressing genuine relief at the handover, even though Peking has promised Macau a degree of autonomy for the next 50 years.

The return of Macau, with its population of less than half a million, has been far less fraught than that of Hong Kong, a territory of six million people, a major port and a significant player in the international financial markets. In contrast to Britain, which resisted Chinese interference up to the last minute, Portugal long ago yielded a significant measure of day-to-day control over the enclave.

The main problem Macau faces is crime connected to its principal industry, gambling. After growing during the 1980s and early 1990s, the economy has contracted in the run-up to the handover, because of a bloody Chinese triad turf war that has claimed 39 lives this year alone.

With one in four of the Macanese workforce relying on the territory's neon-clad casinos to make a living, most of the population is only too glad to welcome in a sovereign power that promises tough action against organised crime - and has already made 3,000 gang-related arrests on the mainland to hammer home the point. Macau's incoming Chief Executive, Edmund Ho Hau Wah, has repeatedly promised strong action to stop the triads' turf war once he takes control. "The terror of the triads has really become too much," said Vincent Chen, a road engineer.

Huge red banners hanging from many of Macau's commercial buildings in anticipation of the handover declared: "Tomorrow will be better", and "We long to return to the motherland". The overwhelmingly positive sentiment is in marked contrast to China's wrangling with the last Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, whom Peking once called "triple violator" and a "prostitute for a thousand generations".

To China's probable irritation, Mr Patten is now the Euro- pean Union's external affairs commissioner, and will attend Macau's handover ceremony in his new capacity. He will also be travelling to Peking this week for the annual EU-China summit.

Apart from Macau's preoccupation with the triads, there are other historical reasons for a smoother handover than in 1997. While Britain took Hong Kong as a trophy after the Sino-British Opium War, China handed Macau to the Portuguese in 1557, by some accounts as a reward for fighting pirates.

The first time Portugal tried to give Macau back, in 1974, China declined. But this time around it hopes to use the handover to push ahead with its "sacred mission" to reunite the nation by luring Taiwan back to the fold. President Jiang Zemin told his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin, last week that with Macau in hand, getting Taiwan back will become "still more pressing".

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform