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UPDATED: December 26, 2014 NO. 1 JANUARY 1, 2015
A Welcome Reunion
Fifteen years after Macao returned to China, life has become more beautiful
By Wang Hairong

A DAZZLING CELEBRATION: Firework lights up the sky of Macao to mark the 15th anniversary of its return to China, on December 20, 2014 (LU XIAOWEI)

In addition to liberalizing travel, the Central Government has also signed the CEPA agreement with the SAR Government in 2003, and 10 supplements to the agreement in succeeding years.

The CEPA aims to promote free and smooth trade flow between the mainland and Macao, abolish tariff and non-tariff measures on goods trade, open service industries including logistic, distribution, audio-visual products, tourism, telecommunications, banking and insurance, and broaden cooperation in other areas such as promotion of investment, custom clearance, electrical commerce, transparency of laws and regulations and industrial cooperation.

As Macao's neighbor, Guangdong Province has also actively promoted cooperation with the SAR. In March 2011, the two sides inked a Guangdong-Macao Cooperation Framework Agreement. The agreement set the principles and targets regarding a wide range of issues in economic, social, welfare and cultural fields.

The agreement set aside an area of 5 square km on Guangdong's Hengqin Island for the two sides to co-develop traditional Chinese medicine and cultural, creative and educational industries. So far, the SAR Government has recommended 33 projects for the industrial park on Hengqin Island, agreements on 16 projects have been signed, with a total investment of more than 53.9 billion yuan ($8.69 billion), according to Xinhua.

The Hengqin Campus of Macao University was opened in 2011. It can accommodate 10,000 students, and has state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities in technology and traditional Chinese medicine.

The industrial park on Hengqin Island helps Macao overcome land shortage and diversify its economy.

The agreement between Guangdong and Macao also stipulated the construction of railway and transportation services between Zhuhai and Macao and extending the opening hours of their border checkpoints.

From December 18, 2014, the Macao Cotai-Hengqin checkpoint, also known as Lotus Flower Bridge checkpoint, is open 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

A heart-warming place

As Macao's economy grows, the government shares the fruits of growth with local residents.

In 2008, the SAR Government launched a "double-layer" social security system, including old-age pension, disability benefits, health and unemployment insurance, as well as other financial and emergency assistance. Residents can enjoy 15 years of free education from kindergarten to high school graduation.

According to Xinhua, during the past 15 years, old-age pension has been increased from 1,150 to 3,180 Macao pataca ($144-398) per month, and since this year, permanent residents older than 65 years can receive an annual stipend from the government. For the past seven years, the SAR Government has also periodically distributed cash to residents.

"Macao is a heartwarming place," said Bi Zhijian, President of Macao Overseas Chinese Youth Association. He said that there are more than 7,000 non-profit organizations in Macao, and the SAR Government has taken out some money from gambling revenues to set up various foundations to sponsor their activities.

"There are very few places in the world where the government sponsors the activities of associations funded by several or dozens of people every year," he said.

Bi was born in Macao in 1971 and moved to Canada with his family later. In 1994, he returned to Macao. He recalled that before returning to China, Macao was not economically developed, and people did not have many work choices. Violent crimes such as kidnapping, robbery and gang fighting disrupted social order and hindered tourism.

Now, there are good work opportunities, Bi said. He said that the SAR Government's policies to promote MICE and cultural industries have availed opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises and individuals. He himself started from real estate then entered advertising, garment production and now MICE industry.

(Zeng Wenhui contributed to this report)

Email us at: wanghairong@bjreview.com

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