- Jorge Valente says Hong Kong’s national security law will “stabilise” the territory
- He suggests corresponding law in Macau could be toughened to match Hong Kong
Jorge Valente, the president of the Macau Lawyers Association and long-time advisor to casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group, has praised Hong Kong’s hardline national security law.
The comments by the symbolic head of Macau’s legal industry contrast with his withering criticism of Beijing one year ago for endangering Macau’s legal system.
Valente, one of Macau’s most experienced and influential lawyers, told reporters in Portuguese that the Beijing-imposed law came as no surprise and will “stabilise” the restive city.
“What happened is only a surprise to people who were not paying attention,” he said, according to a translation by Macau news service MNA.
“The provocations to the Hong Kong government to China were so aggressive that they were basically asking the central government to solve a problem that Hong Kong was not able to resolve.”
Valente told reporters that the law will not ban peaceful protests or freedom of expression and will only have an impact on violators in Hong Kong or those attempting to enter Hong Kong.
However, since implementation late Tuesday night, Hong Kong police have arrested hundreds of people, including a handful under the new law, while engaging in peaceful protest and simply for carrying placards, flags and other signs of protest with potentially illegal slogans.
Social media users in Hong Kong have deleted accounts containing political language, while pro-democracy store owners have stripped their premises of political materials following warnings from police that the law will apply inside private property.
The sweeping provisions of the national security law contain mandatory minimum jail sentences and trial by mainland Chinese courts, and override incompatible political and social protections in Hong Kong’s Basic Law.
The law also applies universally for some offences, even to foreign nationals on foreign soil.
Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and Taiwan have responded by warning citizens of a new risk of arbitrary arrest in Hong Kong.
The United States Congress, meanwhile, reacted to the passage of the bill and its uncompromising powers with bipartisan anger and passage of the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which will sanction banks dealing with Chinese and Hong Kong officials assessed to have damaged Hong Kong’s autonomy. The bill requires President Donald Trump’s signature to be made law.
Valente on Wednesday said that Macau’s own national security addendum to its Basic Law could be updated to reflect the much tougher line in Hong Kong.
“There are many [Hong Kong] people that welcome the new law as they are tired of the situation we witnessed last year,” he said, referring to significant periods of disruption and damage across Hong Kong.
“There is a law, it will be followed, and it will be followed in Hong Kong and it will contribute to stabilise the situation and find peace and tolerance in Hong Kong.”
“I’m confident that if the law is applied by Hong Kong courts, they will respect the rule of law. The majority of Hong Kong residents trust local justice,” he said.
As for Macau, Valente said the impact of the Hong Kong law will be minor.
“The most probable is [non-Macau residents] will be barred entry or returned to their origin. If people come only to cause disturbances, we don’t need them,” he said.
Jorge Menezes, a partner with the Macau-based FCLaw firm, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance on Friday that Valente’s comments strayed from his mandate.
“Valente has presided over the Macau Lawyers Association for two decades, which is in itself telling,” Menezes said.
“While in Hong Kong there is a Law Society, in Macau we have a president who acts more like a businessman than a lawyer.
“The fact that he is calling for Macau’s law on national security to be revised in line with the Chinese one approved for Hong Kong just shows ‘law’ doesn’t belong in the title,” he said.
In June 2019, Valente told the Lusa news agency that Macau’s legal system was under threat because of Beijing’s encroaching influence in the judiciary.
“One of the biggest blows to … [‘One Country, Two Systems’] and Macau’s legal system was the recent passage of a law that says only Chinese judges can preside over the prosecution of crimes against the national security,” he said at the time.
“You can’t have judges who make determinations based on patriotic fervour.”
Valente had also warned of the “erosion” of Macau’s way of life because of this “terrible” development, diluting Macau identity and rendering the region’s Portuguese community “practically irrelevant” in the political structure.
Earlier that month, Valente said he “would have supported the [Hong Kong] demonstrators” against a contested extradition bill, and said accusations of protesters being manipulated by “foreign forces” were “preposterous” and an “insult”.
Valente’s comments last year were remarkable for their directness, especially given that he remains the managing director of Galaxy’s casino concession-holding subsidiary.
Billionaire Galaxy chairman Lui Che Woo is arguably the most trusted gaming mogul in Beijing.
Lui was the only gaming luminary to join an inner circle of Hong Kong and Macau advisors to Chinese President Xi Jinping during the 2014 Umbrella Movement, the precursor movement to the protests of the last two years.
Menezes said Valente’s remarks bode poorly for Macau’s integrity as a destination for investment.
Conceding legal ground to Beijing “is indicative of Macau’s attitude toward rule of law and fundamental rights,” he said.
“This is why Macau could never be a financial centre or prosper economically without blind dependency on China. Prosperous societies depend on freedom of speech, privacy and creativity,” he said.
“This is terrible for foreign investment and trust in the economy.”