Insight: Xi Jinping’s message to Macau

Paulo Barbosa

Xi Jinping’s visit to Macau to host the swearing-in ceremony of the MSAR’s new government attested again to his popularity in China. According to a recent survey cited by the Washington Post, he may even be the most popular political leader in the world.
The Chinese president ranked first amongst ten leaders studied by Japanese firm GMO’s survey, coming ahead of India’s new prime minister Narendra Modi and German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Of course that popularity can be partly explained by geopolitics, as Anthony Saich, of the Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance, told the Washington paper. According to Saich, citizens in democratic countries, where politics is more contested and the press is free, tend to be more critical of their leaders and policies than in, “those nations where politics is less contested.”
Then there is the massive media coverage of all steps taken by Xi. You just needed to do some zapping during Friday and Saturday to realize that the president’s visit to the region was everywhere on Chinese TV, including Hong Kong. The journalists are often kept at bay (as happened again in Macau, where they followed the visit at a distance and were unable to ask questions) and the president delivers statements and takes part in choreographed visits. But his image and charisma are spread through TV. CCTV provides the free signal for the live broadcasts. People take selfies with him in the background, as if touched by the leader’s grandeur.
Macau’s visit demonstrates the immense political ability of Xi Jinping. Besides his almost beatific looks (only broken when he met Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe recently in Beijing) – a stark contrast to the stiffness of his predecessor Hu Jintao – his visits are carefully orchestrated in order to convey a message.
On the first day of his visit to Macau, he chose to visit two low-income families in the Seac Pai Van public housing estate.
Dressed informally, the president first visited Tam Yuk Ngor and her family. “How much do you spend on housing? What do you do for a living?” he asked, showing interest in the improvement of the family’s living conditions, as Xinhua reported. “All our kids are at school. They are all working hard,” said the mother of three daughters, who works for a construction material company. Xinhua also mentioned that she told the president “that the family is very satisfied with their new and cozy home.”
The president’s visit to Seac Pai Van continued with a visit to the flat of Leung Chi Kwok, a dock worker. While “holding Leung’s hand,” Xi asked if the family has social insurance and wanted to know about their daily spending.
“I’m confident that the new government of the special administrative region will continue to enhance administrative abilities and improve people’s well-being so that every Macau citizen can share the fruits of the SAR’s social and economic development,” he told Chui Sai On, who accompanied Xi on the visit.
The visited families in Seac Pai Vai serve as an example of, as Xi puts it, “harmonious and loving” families, who impressed him “for their optimism and diligence for a better life.” And perhaps that is what he expects of China: that the immense country works in order to earn “a better life day by day.”
Besides the obvious need for economic diversification, another key impression left by Xi Jinping is the need to focus on education with a patriotic tone.
“We need to strengthen the education and upbringing of young people to ensure that the fine tradition of loving the motherland and loving Macau will be carried forward from one generation to another and that the cause of ‘one country, two systems’ will be continuously advanced,” he said.
On his Saturday visit to the Hengqin Island campus of the University of Macau, Xi encouraged the students “to absorb quintessence from traditional Chinese culture.”
Overall, Xi has left warnings that shouldn’t be ignored by the new government. Macau needs to change its way of life. The central government doesn’t want a repeat of the problems it is facing in Hong Kong.

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