Interview | Jorge Costa Oliveira: Hengqin-Macau: Legislation should be implemented ‘field by field, subject by subject’

Jorge Costa Oliveira, a veteran expert in international law is hopeful about the materialization of the “Master Plan of the Development of the Guangdong-Macao Intensive Cooperation Zone in Hengqin,” (GMICZH) because all sides “have much to gain” from its development.
Oliveira’s Legislative Affairs Office led the legislative works on the transition of Macau in the legal fields; later on, he was the strategist and creator of Macau’s legal framework on gaming law.
In an exclusive email interview, the former vice-minister of Portugal highlights the ‘once in a lifetime’ set of opportunities that this plan offers for the development of Luso-Chinese cooperation.
Oliveira, who currently owns and manages an international business consultancy firm, sees potential in several industry clusters to be developed in the 106 square km cooperation area in Hengqin, mentioning high-tech industries, digital trade and financial services as key sectors for the long-sought goal of diversifying the Macau economy.
An ‘enlarged’ territory, seamless connections, facilitating the flow of people and goods, preferential status for local people and companies, are other advantages the plan presents in meeting that goal.
Although “most of Macau’s main problems are not linked to the size of its territory…,” says Oliveira, “the economic and business opportunities in Hengqin will undoubtedly help solve problems and shortcomings arising from territorial limitations. The assumption that the Cooperation Zone will be ‘a new space for Macau residents to live and work’ may reduce accommodation costs for Macau families and office space expenses for companies.”
The correspondence started with his highly qualified reflections on the imbroglio in the legal system for which he suggests a step-by-step, field by field approach.

Macau Daily Times (MDT) – Let’s start with the “head”; a dual administration, with the top executives of Guangdong and Macau heading a committee to manage the zone. How do you see this working?
Jorge Costa Oliveira (JCO) – A dual administration seems to be the only reasonable way to handle the joint management of the GMICZH. A strong cooperation and articulation between the Macau SAR and the Guangdong Provincial governments is necessary since decisions on major plans, major policies, major projects, and major personnel appointments to the Cooperation Zone will be jointly taken. I expect it to work well since both sides have much to gain from the development of this Cooperation Zone in Hengqin.

MDT – The plan talks of the intention to establish step by step a civil and commercial regulatory system. Is this to be a new law, a kind of a new jurisdiction? A “common law?”
JCO – It is necessary to ponder carefully what should be done in terms of the regulatory system. First, it depends on how one envisages the evolution of the Cooperation Zone. If the Cooperation Zone – mainly set up to facilitate the diversification of Macau’s economy – is to become autonomous in the future, then it may make sense to have its own regulatory system; if it is to be gradually “merged” with the Macau SAR, then it is not necessary to have its own legal regulatory system. The Macau SAR legal system belongs to the Romano-Germanic family; this type of legal system is applied all over the EU, in Japan, South Korea, and many countries around the world and is good for the development of a sound and proper legal and regulatory system in civil and commercial matters. Laws and regulations are the main source of law, judicial precedent either does not exist or is not very relevant as a source of law. “Common law” does not match a Macau-type of legal regulatory system. I think that this guideline should be implemented as follows – field by field, subject by subject, the legislator should search for the most advanced and adequate comparative legislation and adapt it for the Cooperation Zone policy in said field or subject, in such terms that are easy to articulate with the Macau legal system. To a large extent, this is how most relevant legislation in Macau has been made since the 90s.

MDT – The zone will be administered separately by “subzone and category.” Can we speculate that there will be subzones under the MSAR jurisdiction, a desire expressed by Ho Iat Seng (to deploy “more Macaus” in Hengqin) or this master plan puts an end to that aspiration?
JCO – It all depends on how one envisages the evolution of the Cooperation Zone. If the Cooperation Zone gradually becomes more and more integrated with Macau’s economy, it makes sense that gradually new “tiers” of Hengqin be allocated to Macau. This probably will be in everyone’s interest since the autonomy that the Macau SAR enjoys is not easily replicated, even in adjacent areas.

MDT – On the other hand, the master plan for the GMICZH highlights that this development will strengthen and consolidate the “One Country, Two Systems” formula. How do you read this?
JCO – Notwithstanding the traditional difficulty in diversifying Macau’s economy, the “Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area” and this “Master Plan of the Development of the Guangdong-Macau Intensive Cooperation Zone in Hengqin” are extraordinary opportunities for Macau that go way beyond what one could expect. Macau’s autonomy and its second system will not remain unchanged just because that is enshrined in treaties and laws. It will endure because it is useful for China and China’s development. The second system autonomy not only grants Macau residents a continuity in their way of life but is quite useful for the country’s development. The Master Plan of the Development of the Guangdong-Macau Intensive Cooperation Zone in Hengqin is a good example of how China’s decision makers perceive Macau’s usefulness – Macau is useful for China because it is different, and that is asserted and reiterated time and again in this Master Plan.

MDT – Which areas, within the scope given by the master plan, benefit Macau’s own interests?
JCO – The areas mentioned in the “Development of Scientific and Technological Research and High-end Manufacturing Industries” are impressive – integrated circuits, electronic components, new materials, new energy, big data, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), biomedicine industries, specialized chip design, testing and inspection, Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6), the Fifth Generation Mobile Communication (5G), and the next generation of Internet industry cluster. Let us hope it is possible to attract companies and start-ups in these fields.
To establish “an international hub port for digital trade, to facilitate transformation from traditional trade to digital trade” also offers Macau great potential for new business.
The development of Macau branded industries is interesting but will take time.
As regards the development of a “modern financial industry” there are some suggestions that are very interesting, but their implementation should be further and judiciously discussed.

MDT – Can the finance industry in this zone grow enough to compete with gaming, and become an another ‘pillar’ of the local economy?
JCO – Macau has potential to cultivate a financial industry. So, in principle there should be no need for the Hengqin Cooperation Zone to establish a financial services platform between China and Portuguese-speaking countries. Yet, albeit the mandate to move in this direction has existed since the end of 2016, the time taken to develop a strategy or plan for a platform of financial services in Macau, along with the local difficulties in creating the legal regulatory framework, is probably what lies behind the decision to establish a financial services platform between China and Portuguese-speaking countries in Hengqin. This said, both sectors can grow in parallel. It will take time until the point at which the finance industry has grown to become another ‘pillar’ of the local economy. But I see no reason for any of them to obstruct the other. And it is good for Macau and Macau residents to have other industries so as to avoid depending so much on gaming.

MDT – In China gambling is prohibited. Is the gaming industry in Macau at any peril?
JCO – Gaming in Macau, as an important component of the tourism and entertainment industries, is implicitly protected by Article 118 of Macau’s Basic Law. Until at least 2049 I do not think this will be an issue.

MDT – Will this “rapid integration” contribute, as some critics say, to the dilution of Macau and its way of life? Does the Communist leadership of China really want to retain the difference? Does it see it as an advantage?
JCO – It is well known that Macau’s economy has gradually become more integrated with that of the Mainland. Yet, it is not inevitable that it leads to a dilution of Macau’s way of life. This Master Plan mentions several times “the Hengqin-Macau integrated development” but functionalizes it for Macau’s long-term prosperity and stability. The document underlines “the advantages of ‘Two systems’” and the “advantages of Macau as a free port”.

MDT – Finally, how would this give the much-needed impetus to Forum Macau’s mission?
JCO – Before this “Master Plan of the Development of the Guangdong-Macau Intensive Cooperation Zone in Hengqin,” the “Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area” had already set in place ways to enhance the relevance of the Macau Forum. In particular, the establishment in Macau of a China-Lusophone countries’ platform of financial services. But the Macau Forum is an institutional entity that has limited scope. We should not expect the Macau Forum to be able to cover all fields, namely tasks that were never part of its original purpose, especially related to the entrepreneurial sector. That opens possibilities for new mechanisms, and more cooperation between different types of entities from China and Lusophone countries.

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