The gaming capital of Macau is now under the full glare of a web of 1,620 closed-circuit television cameras – about 50 cameras per square kilometer given the city’s minuscule size – with some running powerful facial-recognition algorithms to spot criminals or anyone in Beijing’s bad books.
The cameras were part of massive security measures in place in the former Portuguese enclave as an aircraft carrying Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan flew in on Wednesday afternoon.
Xi and his wife will spend two nights at the New Bamboo Garden Hotel (新竹苑), which is owned by Beijing’s liaison office in the city and adjoins the government headquarters on the southern tip of the Macau Peninsula.
A heavy police presence was seen along roads leading to the resort, as well as a long convoy of police vehicles.
Macau’s first light rail system, a 9.3-kilometer line linking major casino complexes, tourist attractions and the city’s airport on the island of Taipa that started running a week ago, will be shut for three days during Xi’s stay for security reasons.
Bus and taxi services are also being adjusted with road closures and traffic diversions, especially outside the government headquarters and venues for the slew of events to be attended by Xi.
All the security may not cause too many problems for the 672,000 Macanese as they will avoid going outside because their city has been in lockdown since early this week.
All inbound passengers via Macau’s border and maritime checkpoints will be subject to prolonged checks and searches. This is on top of an extra layer of screening by officers from Zhuhai on the eastern artificial island of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge covering all passengers originating from Hong Kong.
Other than intercepting the inflow of any dangerous items or protest banners from the unrest-hit Hong Kong, the additional checks and red tape are intended to stop any dissidents or pro-democracy activists as mainland cadres and Macau officials seek to muzzle any protests or slogan-chanting that may rain on the parade and mar Xi’s mood.
At least one Hong Kong resident has been detained since last week and in an apparent bid to “shut out” the media, journalists from a number of news outlets including RTHK, Now TV, Commercial Radio, TVB and the South China Morning Post have been denied entry.
The Hong Kong media who tried to go to Macau endured hours of questioning due to “strong indications of activities endangering Macau’s public safety and order,” even though many of them had registered with the Macau authorities in November for permits to cover Xi’s visit.
In one case, a reporter who was eventually allowed in had his smartphone and even social media accounts like Facebook, Instagram and personal WhatsApp messages checked by officers, who asked him if he had installed the Telegram app, the encrypted massaging app widely used by protesters in Hong Kong to relay information and muster ranks for demonstrations.
Xi’s two-day itinerary in Macau includes an inspection of the People’s Liberation Army’s garrison in the city, the inauguration of a new border checkpoint, visits to local schools and families, an official welcome banquet on Thursday evening as well as a swearing-in ceremony of the city’s new Chief Executive Ho Iat-seng on Friday.
Xi is expected to unveil more measures to spur Macau’s diversification away from the gaming industry, with a bold plan to set up a renminbi-denominated bourse for the internationalization of the Chinese currency as well as incentives to boost trade and exchanges with Portuguese-speaking countries.