Macau in an unprecedented lockdown ahead of Xi Jinping visit, as authorities suspend newly launched train service for 'special security' reasons

Chinese President Xi Jinping will be in Macau for a three-day visit.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Macau has been in an unprecedented lockdown ahead of President Xi Jinping's visit on Wednesday, as authorities tightened security across the city and suspended part of its newly launched train service.

Xi is set to embark on his three-day visit to the casino hub on Wednesday to mark the 20th anniversary of its handover to Chinese rule, where he would also witness the swearing-in ceremony of officials from the new administration led by Ho Iat-seng, the former president of the city's legislature.

On Tuesday, travellers and residents faced stringent security checks when travelling to the city by ferry or through the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.

At the China Ferry Terminal in Hong Kong, all luggage and bags of outbound passengers had to go through an X-ray machine before customs officers asked to open them again for a quick inspection.

Ferry sailings between Hong Kong and Macau have been reduced to every 30 minutes from Monday until Saturday, based on "instructions by Macau authorities", according to ferry operator Turbojet.

In Macau, the newly launched Light Rapid Transit also announced trains for its Taipa line would be suspended from Wednesday afternoon to Friday for "special security arrangements".

Long lines of cars were also seen queuing outside fuel stations in various districts in Macau after rumours circulated that fuel tanks would not be allowed on roads during the Chinese leader's visit.

A staff member from a Shell station in Taipa dispelled the speculation, saying that such services would run as normal but revealed that "all fuel tankers have to notify the Fire Services Bureau of their routes before they can get on the road".

"The unprecedented security measures have turned the celebration into disruption for ordinary citizens in the city," Macau pro-democracy lawmaker Au Kam-san said.

The newly launched Macau Light Rapid Transit. PHOTO: South China Morning Post

He also said he had received complaints from ordinary residents who were detained for hours when entering their home city after work on Monday night.

Xi's high-level visit has also prompted the establishment of a temporary checkpoint on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, which sparked controversy after Hong Kong resident Chung Sun-ming was detained on Friday and accused of smuggling offences as he tried to cross to the casino city.

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Located on an artificial island not far from Hong Kong's Lantau Island, the checkpoint is manned by mainland Chinese officials.

While critics had slammed the arrangement, saying it damaged business confidence for those moving between Hong Kong and Macau who did not wish to enter the mainland, Hong Kong Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung on Tuesday defended the detention of Chung, 53, as "legal and justified".

"It is perfectly justified for [mainland authorities] to exercise jurisdiction within their own territory. It's entirely legal," Cheung, acting as city leader with Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in Beijing, said.

The move appeared to deviate from an agreement adopted by the Hong Kong, Macau and mainland governments, which stated no security checks were needed on the island.

Police officers patrol the Eastern artificial island of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.  PHOTO: South China Morning Post

But Cheung said the temporary set-up and the arrest had not violated the arrangement.

"This is an operational matter on the part of mainland authorities so I'm not prepared to comment on it," he said before an Executive Council meeting.

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Cheung also urged the public "not to over-interpret the matter", saying the checkpoint would only be in place for a few days. The Zhuhai Public Security Bureau previously said the arrangement - intended to "create a good social environment" for the anniversary celebrations - would last from December 10 to 22.

On Monday, reporter Jack Tsang from Hong Kong's Now TV News was also stopped at the checkpoint and held for more than two hours before being told he was denied entry into Macau "for the next few days", according to an account published on the company's website.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.