quarta-feira, 18 de março de 2009

Horse-trading at the gates of Macau

Chris Yeung
South China Morning Post
March 18, 2009

It was described as a trip marking a new move in the chess game between the pan-democrats in Hong Kong and the Macau authorities. But when the 28 legislators and activists returned home after protesting against the barring of five colleagues from Macau on Sunday, there was no indication of an early end to the saga.

On Monday, the Civic Party launched an e-mail campaign to keep the pressure on the Macau and Hong Kong governments.

Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong will face a grilling from lawmakers at a Legislative Council security panel meeting next month.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen will continue to face criticism over his weakness in dealing with his Macau counterpart, Edmund Ho Hau-wah.

This is despite the insistence by government officials, who spoke anonymously to several newspapers, that the Macau government has already shown a degree of tolerance. The officials have argued that some legislators, including the Democratic Party's Albert Ho Chun-yan and vice-chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing, did not have home-visit permits for the mainland. They said the fact that only five pan-democrats were barred this time was "better than expected".

The selective ban was one of three scenarios anticipated by the pan-democrats in this latest move to test Macau immigration. The others were a ban on all 33 members, and permission for them all to enter Macau. In reality, a selective ban was obviously the only politically viable option.

Now that Mr Tsang has said publicly that he has expressed people's concerns about Hongkongers being denied entry to Macau, rejecting the entire group would have caused a political uproar in Hong Kong.

There will be immense political pressure for the government not only to talk tough, but to adopt hardball tactics, including retaliatory measures.

At the same time, allowing all of them to enter would, in effect, have been a slap in the face for Mr Ho, who is already regarded as a political lame duck as the jockeying for his post begins in earnest.

While Beijing may no longer have much confidence in Mr Ho's leadership following a spate of top-level corruption scandals and workers' protests against economic hardships, they certainly would not want to see Mr Ho's ability to lead the city eroded during the remainder of his term.

Beijing will also understand perfectly well why Macau authorities have chosen to bar certain democrats. After all, the mainland has closed the door to more than 20 pan-democrats since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

The Hong Kong government, meanwhile, has also turned away politically sensitive figures such as former Tiananmen student leaders and academics. Granted, officials were more selective and skilful when choosing their targets and the timing.

Both the central and Hong Kong governments would probably not think that the Macau authorities have done anything wrong, in principle, when denying entry to certain democrats.

The furthest they are prepared to go is to urge the Macau authorities, both publicly and privately, to handle the case with greater sensitivity, given the potential political fallout in Hong Kong.

By limiting the people denied entry to just a few, Macau has attempted to ease the pressure on the Hong Kong government, at least for now.

Some Macau pundits are optimistic that the row will be history once a new chief executive takes office.

However, it looks unlikely that the anxiety and suspicion among some people in Macau towards the game plan - if one exists - of Hong Kong's pan-democratic activists will dissipate soon.

The immigration row looks very likely to become a long-standing source of friction in Hong Kong-Macau politics.

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