China loyalist takes helm in Macao amid trouble in Hong Kong

Beijing loyalist Ho Iat Seng has been inaugurated Friday as China's chief executive in the tiny gambling enclave of Macao, which unlike neighboring Hong Kong has remained free of pro-democracy protests

MACAO -- Beijing loyalist Ho Iat Seng was inaugurated Friday as China's chief executive in the tiny gambling enclave of Macao, which unlike neighboring Hong Kong has remained free of pro-democracy protests.

The 62-year-old businessman read his oath of office in front of Chinese leader Xi Jinping at a ceremony Friday morning.

Both men delivered speeches stressing the importance of the “one country, two systems" framework under which the former Portuguese colony has been ruled since its handover to China in 1999.

Unlike in Hong Kong, where months of anti-government protests have wracked the former British colony, Macao has remained overwhelmingly calm, a reflection of its close ties to and economic dependence on mainland China.

In his address, Ho pledged improvements to the territory's administration, infrastructure, transportation and economy, reflecting calls for it to diversify away from its heavy dependence on the gambling industry.

Xi's speech focused overwhelmingly on the need for strict adherence to “one country, two systems," which has come under sharp criticism in Hong Kong, where the opposition says China is chipping at civil liberties it promised the two territories would retain under Chinese rule.

"One country" is the prerequisite and basis of "two systems," Xi said. “Only by ensuring no distortion of the ‘one country, two systems' practice can the cause of ‘one country, two systems' go far and steady."

Xi also reiterated that Macao and Hong Kong were purely China's internal affairs and Beijing would “absolutely not allow" foreign interference, a line that received warm applause from the audience of local politicians, members of the business elite and invited foreign guests.

The city of just 632,000 people was placed in a security lockdown for Xi's visit, including barring political activists and journalists from Hong Kong.

Even without the heavy security, Xi would likely have seen little in the way of protests or calls for greater democracy or self-rule.