Twenty years ago, towards the end of the 20th century, Macao, an international city with moderate size resting at the west coast of Pearl River bay, was handed over from Portugal to China. This event, along with the similar handover of Hong Kong from UK to China two years earlier, has indeed exerted both symbolic and realistic impact on local area in both economic and political aspects.
Politically, it announced that China's sovereignty has been completely restored from humiliation lasting for more than one century. People's daily life could remain the same as before, but the entire constitutional structure within which people led their lives has changed once and for all. Economically, it guaranteed that the ongoing socio-economic system functioning in Macao and Hong Kong special administrative regions (SAR) can still run for a certain period in order to facilitate further integration and connection between China and the world.
This laid down the basis for great change. Before the handover, news about Macao were full of local gangs committing crimes and doing evil things without respect for and even fear of the law. Becoming like de facto untouchables, like the mafia in Europe and the U.S., these gangsters even killed judges on the street in broad daylight. In the absence of basic social order, economy can go nowhere. And this scene has rarely been seen ever since the handover.
Within this 20-year period, the GDP in Macao has increased from 5.19 billion to 444.70 billion Macanese patacas, and is viewed as the fastest booming economy around the world. The pride comes not only from the speed, but also the result. Government and citizens both got rich. GDP per capita in Macao has increased from 120,000 to 670,000 Macanese patacas. Full employment has been realized in local economic practice, and the median of local people's monthly payment has reached 16,000 patacas, three times that of twenty years ago. These achievements were praised and highly valued by President Xi Jinping in his keynote speech at the 20th anniversary ceremony of Macao returning to China as well as the inauguration session. He said that over the past 20 years, Macao has achieved the best ever development in history.
But Macao still has a long way ahead. Governing capability is one of the most significant point that is in need of improvement. In his speech, President Xi stated that Macao should deepen public administration reform, improve government efficiency and promote modernization of the city's system and capacity for governance. The President also called for efforts to build Macao into a smart city and use big data and other advanced information technology to innovate the modes of government management and social governance in the SAR.
A market system indeed promotes and facilitates the efficient distribution and allocation of resources in economic development, but solely relying upon market may also do harm to economy since the market fails at times. At this point, it is the government that steps in for both protection and further stimulation. President Xi's expectation of the improvement of Macao's governing capability is in line with the solution passed in the 4th plenary of the 19th Central Committee at the end of October. The modernization of governing system and capacity is a top task for the whole of China in the next three decades; Macao is part of China, making the task its own as well.
One Portuguese official once told me that twenty years back, they really wanted to hand Macao back to China and even wanted to do it earlier than that date, but Chinese leadership somehow hesitated. I would say it was not hesitation, but lack of readiness. Today, it is completely different: Opportunities, resources, personnel, and even capital are all ready, waiting for Macao SAR to have deeper integration and cooperation with the mainland.
The city should grasp the opportunity brought by the building of the Belt and Road and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area to further the process of being one center, one platform, and one base. Last but not the least is to actively respond to the people's complaints, solve prominent issues in housing, health care and aged care, and scale up assistance and support to the vulnerable. With this being done, Macao can have long term stability and prosperity.