Macanese citizens have complained of inconvenience as authorities stepped up security measures to clear streets during a visit by Chinese state leader Zhang Dejiang. Activists, meanwhile, has suggested the lockdown is intended to shield Zhang from encountering protesters.

The third-ranking Chinese official visited the former Portuguese colony between Monday and Wednesday. Upon arrival, he said his purpose of visiting was to “experience, inspect and encourage” Macau. He also quoted Chinese President Xi Jinping in urging its residents to “roll up their sleeves and work hard” to further the development of the semi-autonomous city.

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Zhang Dejian. File Photo: GovHK.

But the high-profile visit has attracted criticism from some residents, as the government blocked off streets and prevented activists from petitioning its headquarters.

Independent outlet All About Macau reported that residents of buildings near the government headquarters were escorted by police as they walked in the area. People were prevented from leaving buildings as Zhang travelled away from the headquarters.

Macau Zhang Dejiang Police
Discussions between residents and police blocking off streets during Zhang Dejiang’s visit. Photo: All About Macau.

As Zhang’s motorcade passed through Sai Van Bridge – connecting Taipa island and the Macau peninsula – the bridge was closed to the public.

The Cheng Pou newspaper reported that activists pro-democracy group New Macau Association were only able to deliver a petition for universal suffrage to a legislature staffer some 350 metres away from the government headquarters on Tuesday.


“Because Macau is small, and [Zhang] passed through many areas, quite a lot of disturbance was caused to ordinary people,” New Macau Association deputy chairman Sulu Sou told HKFP.

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Macanese blocked off a street. Photo: All About Macau.

“The social impact is very practical: A citizen has to go home or go to work, and because of these security measures they are blocked and feel inconvenienced.”

“This prevents any real voices or complaints from being reflected to Zhang,” he said. “This violates the original intention of any state leader visiting Macau, or Hong Kong, to ‘walk around more, hear more and see more’.”

“This makes the public have no confidence on a state leader visiting Macau. From the security measures you can see that there’s no way for public concerns to even become known or taken seriously.”

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Residents were asked to stay at their residences during Zhang’s visit. Photo: All About Macau.

‘Losing face’

Macau social activist Jason Chao said that heavy security measures were taken in order to prevent any protests from coming into Zhang’s sight, which would have caused him to “lose face”.

“In line with the mentality of Chinese state leaders’ visits to other states, the avoidance of any sight of protest is a way to avoid embarrassment,” he told HKFP.

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Members of New Macau Association demonstrate outside the police cordon during Zhang Dejiang’s visit. Photo: All About Macau.

“Keeping the ordinary citizens distant from Zhang, in my view, is mostly [done] not out of a fear of ‘assassination’ but of chances of upsetting the Chinese leadership,” said Chao.

“I think, in the mind of Zhang’s entourage, the notion of ‘security’ includes deterring any threat to the state leaders’ self-esteem and face.”

See also: Chinese state leader’s speech in Macau was aimed at Hong Kong, says Macau lawmaker

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Macanese police stationed outside the Legislative Assembly building during Zhang’s visit. Photo: All About Macau.

Chao added that the Chinese government understands the problems that Macau faces very well.

He speculated that the decision to take heavy security measures derived from extensive research on issues of protest and protesters.

Additional reporting by Ellie Ng

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.