HONG KONG Chinese premier Li Keqiang has pledged to support Macau, the world's largest gambling hub, with a series of policies including setting up a renminbi clearing centre for Portuguese-speaking countries, the Xinhua newsagency reported on Tuesday.
Li, speaking during a three-day visit to the Chinese territory, said he expected Macau to push development as a global tourism and leisure centre and as a service platform for economic and trade cooperation between China and Portuguese-speaking countries.
Referring to Macau as the "treasured soil of the lotus flower of the motherland", Li praised the former Portuguese colony as a good example of the 'one country, two systems' principle on which both Macau and the neighbouring financial hub of Hong Kong are modelled.
Li said the central government recognised Macau's work in successfully tackling challenges as Macau's economy has experienced "adjustment" over the past two years and making new achievements.
In contrast, calls for independence in Hong Kong, a former British colony, have increased over recent years, exacerbating tensions in the free-wheeling business hub as residents campaign to preserve their city's freedom in the face of what they see as Beijing's bid to curb them.
Li's visit to Macau came as gambling revenues grew for the second consecutive month in October after more than two years of declines. The special administrative region is the only place in China where residents can gamble legally in casinos.
The central government has been pushing Macau to diversify away from casinos due to its economic dependence on the industry, which contributes more than 80 percent of government revenue.
New policies also include supporting Macau in hosting an "annual global tourism economy forum, creating influential conventions and exhibitions, and establishing the headquarters of the cooperation and development fund between China and Portuguese-speaking countries", the official Xinhua agency said without giving further details.
Last December, China granted tiny Macau, which has an area of 30 sq km (12 sq miles), control over its surrounding sea for the first time to help boost its economic development, more than tripling its size.
(Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Paul Tait)