Twenty years after its return to China, the former Portuguese colony of Macao is in lockdown this week for a visit from Chinese leader Xi Jinping designed to showcase a model territory and contrast the casino hub with the rebellious, democracy-craving citizens of nearby Hong Kong.

Heavy security has been implemented and travel severely restricted - there's even a ban on fuel supplies - to ensure Xi's three-day trip goes without a hitch.

"It is said that good children get candy, and Macao, hailed by the country's leaders as a 'shining example of one country, two systems,' is no exception," the pro-Beijing Oriental Daily newspaper said in an editorial Thursday. It was referring to the framework under which Hong Kong and Macao are entitled to a degree of autonomy while being part of greater China - a formula Xi hopes to extend to Taiwan.

"In the past, Hong Kong has always cried and the central government has always tolerated it," the editorial continued. "The louder it has cried, the more candy it has received. But all this is not a given, [China's] patience will run out one day."


The paper's front page Thursday featured a photo of Xi and his wife, opera star Peng Liyuan, emerging from the plane upon arriving in Macao, with a headline declaring that the "Dragon" - shorthand for a Chinese emperor - had landed in the "Sea of Mirrors," a reference to Macao.

The subtitle was less subtle: "Macao succeeded, Hong Kong fails."

This was the welcome that Xi wanted, and the point that he wanted to make. He is trying to show that benefits come from being subservient to the world's second-largest economy and its rulers in Beijing, analysts said.

For six months, Hong Kong has been roiled by protests that began as demonstrations against an extradition bill but have morphed into wider calls for autonomy and democracy. Beijing appears unsure how to react, and particularly how to quell the unrest without attracting international anger and triggering capital flight from the financial center. Instead, it has accused the United States and other Western powers of fomenting dissent.

But Macao, a territory of almost 700,000 people, is much more compliant. More than half its residents were born on the mainland and millions of mainlanders visit each year to gamble in its casinos.

The territory is heavily dependent on the gambling industry - its tables turn over about seven times as much money as those of Las Vegas - but casinos were conspicuously missing from footage of Xi's visit.

Instead, Xi focused on championing Macao's 20 years as part of greater China.

"We will join hands to draw the blueprint for Macao's future development," Xi said at the start of his visit. "During my stay, I expect extensive exchanges with people from all walks of life in Macao over matters of common concern."


The People's Daily, the Communist Party's mouthpiece, said in a front-page story that it was "worthwhile to sum up the experience and characteristics of Macao in faithfully implementing 'one country, two systems.'" It did not, however, list them.

Students at the Premier School Affiliated to Hou Kong Middle School show their science project to Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit in Macao. Photo / AP
Students at the Premier School Affiliated to Hou Kong Middle School show their science project to Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit in Macao. Photo / AP

Zhang Nianchi, director of the Shanghai Institute of East Asia Studies, said China would not give up "one country, two systems" just because of the Hong Kong unrest.

"We will still do a good job in adhering to it. Macau is a place where the 'one country, two systems' has worked relatively well," Zhang said.

Not everyone is happy. Security is extremely tight around Xi's visit, leading to grumbling.

Journalists from Hong Kong, including from networks TVB, Radio Television Hong Kong and the South China Morning Post newspaper, reported that they had been denied entry to Macao on Wednesday as they tried to cover Xi's visit.

Even reporters authorities deemed worthy were not entirely trusted. Those waiting in the rain at the airport for Xi were not allowed to use umbrellas.


Pro-democracy activists from Hong Kong's League of Social Democrats said they had been blocked from boarding a ferry to Macao. One, Leung Kwok-hung, said a Hong Kong immigration officer told him that Macao didn't want them, citing concerns that they might "sabotage" the celebrations.

The chairman and the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong were also denied entry to Macao as they tried to attend a ball there on Saturday, AmCham said.

Roads around the legislative council and other areas where Xi has been traveling have been closed. Macao's new rapid transit line - which opened last week - has been suspended and traffic controls imposed on water routes.

Motorists were told to fill their tanks before Dec. 17 because there would be no fuel supplied to the territory during Xi's visit.

"The security control is so strict!" one Twitter user called @YaJun666 wrote. "I've heard that gas stations have stopped filling petrol or diesel. My college friends in Macao decided to take a holiday in Malaysia. Big events have brought us so much trouble."

Extra luggage checks were instituted on travelers between Hong Kong and Macao, and the number of ferries between the territories halved. Mainland authorities set up temporary checkpoints on the gargantuan bridge that opened last year linking Hong Kong, Macao and the mainland city of Zhuhai.


Still, the carefully scripted encounters that Xi had in Macao would have delighted Chinese officials.

"Grandpa Xi hugged me while greeting us, and he shook hands with me," a schoolboy surnamed Lau told local television after meeting the Chinese leader. "My hands were actually quite cold at that time, but with Grandpa Xi holding my hands, I could feel his warmth suddenly spreading through my body."

Xi had told the children to study Chinese history well, the boy said in a video that quickly went viral.