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".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links