Published in: Macau Daily Times
Poyi (Natalie) Leung
Democracy might not advance at the same pace as social and economic growth in Macau over the past years, but democrat Ng Kuok Cheong believes the future is promising as a powerful force to push forward changes has emerged.
The Macau Joint Commission for the Development of Democracy, founded by local democrat-cum-lawmaker Ng Kuok Cheong and Au Kam San, has insisted on holding the candlelight vigil each year in Senado Square in memory of the lives sacrificed during the 1989 June Fourth Incident (also known as the Tiananmen Square protests).
Hong Kong and Macau are the only two places within China where memorial for the June Fourth military crackdown is not being forbidden.
Twenty years on, people have not forgotten those young mainland students and intellectuals calling for a democratic reform and the end of the nation’s authoritarianism, and also the moment when the peaceful protests turned into a massacre after tanks cleared Tiananmen Square.
Yet, in an interview given to the Macau Daily Times at the New Macau Association’s office (in which Ng is one of the council members), Ng said democracy in Macau has not been improved at all in these years, despite the local economy have obtained remarkable accomplishments.
Looking to the next five or 10 years on the democratic path, however, he said he is getting more and more optimistic because “the deep structure of Macau society” has been upgraded.
Reporter: In what ways has the deep structure of society changed in the past?
Ng Kuok Cheong: There are three points to elaborate on this.
First, Macau and Hong Kong are different. Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea – so called “Asia’s Four Little Dragons” – were used by Western capitalism as an economic front to blockade the communist camp since the 1960s, which then suppressed the industrial development around the Philippines and Indonesia.
In the following three decades, the “Four Little Dragons” rose to become a middle-class society and replaced industrialisation by developing finance.
However, Macau only joined the economic front until the 1980s when Susana Chou (present president of the Legislative Assembly) and other Hong Kong businesspeople came to invest in Macau and fought for the export quota for Macau and established the industrial sector in order to export goods to the US and Europe. Hence, it’s a historical reason that Macau is not as advanced as Hong Kong or Taiwan.
Originally, it could be a major disadvantage to Macau. But coincidentally, two years after the June Fourth Incident in 1991 the entire communist camp completely collapsed worldwide.
Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau thus lost a lot of business privileges as their strategic position as an economic front to bar communism was no longer needed. Eventually, these places saw major capital and industrial outflows. However, Hong Kong and Macau were saved by the handover of sovereignty. China, which already abandoned communism, had become a factory of world capitalism. For its own political interests, China granted Hong Kong and Macau the position of a “new economic growing point”. As such, Hong Kong developed finance while Macau developed gaming. Macau has been able to stand firm as a new economic growing point with the back up of the Chinese government.
Secondly, a new force from the marginal proletariat to push forward social changes has emerged after the 1999 handover.
In the 1980s after joining the economic front, Macau’s industrial sector flourished accounting for 36 percent of the GDP. In contrast, the industrial output nowadays contributes to no more than five percent of the GDP. It’s obvious that the entire industrial base was moved out from Macau – we are now in a post-industrial society.
The marginal proletariat mainly formed by people coming from Guangdong and Fujian between 1979 and the mid-80s to participate in the blooming industrial sector who then became Macau’s dominant labour force.
However, in 10 years’ time Macau’s industrial base got abandoned and these workers became “marginal labour” such as doormen, cleaners and restaurant helpers in order to earn a living. They didn’t speak up (they used to be the core labour of the economy but due to the industrial outflows their socio-economic status got down to the bottom) during the Portuguese governance because they were controlled by a special ideology at that time. In order to maintain social stability, pro-China associations convinced the people that the Portuguese government wouldn’t be able to help and everything would be fine after the handover.
However, after the handover those pro-government associations could no longer point fingers at Edmund Ho Hau Wah’s administration in front of the workers and thus starting 2000, Macau saw a lot of protests organised by unemployed workers.
The marginal proletariat then became the backbone of May 1 protests every year. The government worsened the problem by allowing large imports of non-local labour. This made them furious. The ideology was broken and the workers are dare to speak up in order to pressure the government for changes.
Thirdly, it was the change in the population structure.
Between 1996 and 2006, the census showed that the Macau population grew by 21 percent, but at the same time the number of people held higher education qualifications soared 152 percent.
The change in the population structure indicated a strong force to push forward a social reform. Those educated people are young with knowledge more up-to-date and no less than Edmund Ho Hau Wah, Chui Sai On or Ma Iao Lai’s. However, the difference is those young intellectuals have no power.
In the 90s after the collapse of the communist camp, the world economy stagnated and Macau did not develop a professional structure (professional appraisal/certification system). The Portuguese government before leaving Macau only helped develop the lawyer profession by establishing the Lawyers’ Association.
Hence, Macau has a new generation of young educated people but no professional structure where they can set foot in and have a career prospect same as their classmates from other regions. Eventually, Macau’s human resources structure became imbalanced and these young intellectuals are very dissatisfied yet they have no social status.
I think these three elements will form a new force with a very strong potential to emerge. If we can guide it properly, I believe social changes must be able to come to light in the next five or 10 years.
R: If the above three elements have already existed in society, why democracy could not be developed sooner?
Mr Ng: A patriotic camp having been operating for over three decades since the 1960s in Macau and took over the regime not long ago that led to a massive economic rebound with the support of the Chinese government, what reasons do you have on hand to request them to surrender the political power to democracy? In the political point of view, it’s impossible. Thus, in the past nine years no progress was made to advance democracy was justified and expected. But it doesn’t mean that I’ll give up fighting for it. I’m optimistic that with this potential force and social pressure, society should be able to improve.
R: Do you think the cognition about the June Fourth Incident has been diminishing among people generation after generation?
Mr Ng: It’s undeniable. How much do people nowadays still know about the 1937 Nanjing Massacre or the Yangzhou massacre (in the Qing dynasty in 1645 when Manchu conquerors conducted mass killings of Yangzhou residents)? Each generation can only be a witness of that generation. It’s a naive thought that nothing bigger than the June Fourth Incident will occur in the future. Each generation will have its own major events. But at present our generation has the responsibility to push the Chinese government to stop controlling information and face the truth because we need to help the country improve.
R: This year was the 20th anniversary of the June Fourth Incident. What’s the most important thing that Chinese people have to look at at this particular time?
Mr Ng: They have to be thankful. Chinese people are actually very lucky. After having done such a sinful move (June Fourth Incident) that eventually led the collapse of many socialist countries, China in contrast is still able to maintain social stability and achieve economic growth. The Chinese government should admit their mistakes and examine what they have done.