Local gov’t hits back at US Congress report on stifling democracy

Macau Government Headquarters seen through one of its gates

An independent agency of the U.S. government has condemned the actions of the Macau government in the last year in what it describes as a stifling of the democratic wishes of the Macau people. The Macau government has hit back, accusing the U.S.-based Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) and its recent report of overlooking achievements in other areas of society since the city’s handover to China in 1999.

In the commission’s annual report, which is responsible for analyzing the developments in the greater China region over the past year, the U.S. Congress body noted that in 2019, the local government acted in a manner that stifled calls for democratic development in Macau.

The body accused the Macau authorities of working to stop any action, including public demonstrations, that would challenge the central government, especially regarding the ongoing social unrest in the neighboring region of Hong Kong, and more importantly, remarked on the lack of democratic standards in the election of the new Chief Executive (CE) Ho Iat Seng.

“The Commission did not observe progress in Macau toward universal suffrage in the 2019 CE election. Former Macau Legislative Assembly president Ho Iat Seng won the uncontested election on August 25, 2019, because he was the only candidate able to garner enough nominations in the 400-member CE Election Committee, many of whose members are considered to be supporters of the central government,” the report stated.

Giving examples of what the Commission considered as efforts to stop democracy, the report reads, “This past year, the Macau government continued to ‘securitize’ the city against pro-democracy forces that might challenge the central government’s rule.”

“In October 2018, the Macau Legislative Assembly (AL) approved the government’s plans for a Cybersecurity Bill, which critics said would undermine freedom of expression in the city and allow the Macau government to ‘monitor, sensor, block and delete online speech.’ In June 2019, the AL passed the Cybersecurity Bill into law, effective December 2019.”

Another example noted by the U.S. State Commission related to the amendments to the “National Anthem Law” passed in January  2019 and effective since June last year. These amendments penalize “acts disrespectful of the Chinese national anthem punishable by up to three years in prison,” noting the opposition to such bill by pro-democracy lawmakers as well as by the Macau Journalists Association declaring that the media should not be part of ‘‘the propaganda machine of the regime, and it has no obligation to cooperate.’’

The SAR government immediately replied to the report expressing its “strong opposition.”

In a statement, the government refuted the accusation without addressing any of the topics mentioned by the CCEC report.

“The 2019 annual report overlooked the fact that the Macau SAR has made — over the course of the past 20 years since returning to China — remarkable achievements in various aspects. Such achievements were widely recognized and have triggered exponential leaps in the city’s development,” the government statement said in the statement.

“In addition, the authors of the U.S. report selectively ignored the benefits enjoyed by Macau stemming from the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, and the latter’s great vitality.”

The statement concludes with the government making use of the words of the central government on such matters, claiming “the U.S. report made baseless accusations and represents a brutal interference in the internal affairs of Macau, which are entirely part of China’s domestic affairs,” urging the Commission to “refrain from making biased statements, and to stick to the facts.”

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