MACAO: President Hu Jintao yesterday pledged support for Macao to develop in a "creative" manner as the festive special administrative region celebrated the 10th anniversary of its return to the motherland.
Delivering a speech after the third-term government of Macao was sworn in, the president lauded the region's achievements over the past decade.
"Macao overcame a series of difficulties, such as the Asian financial crisis, SARS outbreak and the (ongoing) international financial crisis, while maintaining its prosperity and stability," he said.
Macao's gross domestic product, or GDP, grew on average by 14 percent annually from 2000 to 2008, largely due to its casino industry. Macao is the only area in China where gambling is legal.
The economic boom has turned the region's half million residents into the richest on average in Asia, according to 2008 World Bank figures.
The region has also become a global tourist destination. Tourists flocked to the Southeast Asian area 230 million times last year, 60 million short of Hong Kong's tally.
Hu attributed Macao's achievements to the "one country, two systems" principle invented by the late leader Deng Xiaoping, and asked the special administrative region to uphold that principle.
The 30-sq-km enclave was under Portuguese rule for more than four centuries and was reunited with the motherland 10 years ago.
Looking ahead, Hu urged Macao to be creative and work more closely with the Pearl River Delta region.
The region should be "strengthening and improving the management of the gambling industry, diversifying the economy and lifting living standards," he said.
The president also hoped the region would improve its education system and pointed out yesterday that "talent is the key to continuously enhance Macao's competitiveness".
Fernando Chui Sai-on, who assumed chief executive of Macao yesterday from Edmund Ho, agreed.
"Over the next five years, we shall actively diversify the economy," said Chui, the region's new chief executive. "While enhancing regulations on the gaming industry, we will also emphasize the convention, exhibition, logistics and cultural industries. We will also focus on upgrading and transforming traditional industries."
Lou Shenghua, associate professor of Macao Polytechnic Institute, said Macao faces new challenges such as the widening gap between the rich and poor and rising property prices.
"A fast-developing Macao, banking on a casino boom, has seen problems pop up anew," Lou said. "This is why both the president and the chief executive are keen to cut its reliance on the gambling industry."
Macao currently has 34 casinos. Its $15 billion casino industry overtook Las Vegas' gambling mecca in late 2006.
Hu, who arrived in Macao on Saturday on his second visit as the president, also reviewed the People's Liberation Army's Macao troops yesterday, praising the unit as a "role model".
The city was in a carnival-like mood as residents turned out to attend various celebrations.
The festivities began with a flag-raising ceremony attended by 500 people and ending with a fireworks show in the evening.
A long queue was seen outside the Macao Post Office with residents eager for a set of stamps commemorating the 10th anniversary.
And local residents have one more reason to celebrate: They will no longer need to travel to other cities to see pandas.
The president announced on Saturday night that the central government will send a pair of pandas as a gift to Macao.