• Short Summary

    Visnews toured Macao, the oldest foreign settlement in the Far East, to see how the Portuguese colony live a stone's throw from the Communist Chinese mainland.

  • Description

    Visnews toured Macao, the oldest foreign settlement in the Far East, to see how the Portuguese colony live a stone's throw from the Communist Chinese mainland.

    The island team with a population of some 250,000 of which some 5,000 are Portuguese, including the garrison. The remainder are Chinese roughly divided into Communists, Nationalists and Neutralists. All depend, as the people of Hongkong do, almost entirely on food supplies from the mainland.

    But while Hongkong has stockpiles of food and fuel, should mainland supplies be suddenly ended, Macao has none. Its exports to the mainland are negligible, yet a few years ago Macao was the principal centre through which Communist China secured such needed strategic materials from the West and smuggled by way of Hongkong.

    Macao's harbour consists of a long stretch of water washing the shores of the island on one side and the Communist Chinese-controlled island of Lappa on the other where strict watch is maintained by Communist boats.

    The harbour also teams with boats - ferry boats from Hongkong, Communist river boats, fishing boats. Some of the island's transport depends on the Communist-owned bus station where this "Liberation" bus produced on the mainland was recently added to the fleet but broken down so often that it was shipped back for overhaul.

    Communist influence in schools is steadily increasing. One is set ironically between the building of the Nationalist Chinese Foreign Affairs Commissioner and the library run by representatives of Nationalist China - the nation that Macao recognises.

    Politically as well as economically, Macao lives on a knife edge. Three years ago Peking claimed the colony was Chinese territory and there was every right to demand its return by Portugal. Peking said that country obtained the island by false pretences in 1553 and forced the authorities to cancel its 400 anniversary celebrating the settling of the Portuguese a year later. Last September, the Portuguese border guards had a tough time turning back an estimated 10,000 Chinese who attempted to swarm onto the island for an anti-American demonstration.

    And Peking's newly- declared 12-mile territorial waters limit swmaps Macao. One large junk, they say, scuttled at the narrow harbour entrance will cut the vital artery. Every plane has no way of escaping the limit imposed for the air too. Thus Macao is indefensible.The garrison of 2,500 troops - mainly Mozambique officered by the Portuguese - are no more than a token force.

    The Portuguese settlers first went to the island on a promise: to help the Chinese Viceroy put down the rife coastal piracy. And something of those fierce days existed until a few years ago: gambling, prostitution, opium trafficking and gold bullion on balance the budget. Only the gold - and the girls - remain in strength. Smuggling gold is sinked at, prostitution is licensed.

    One of the famous Chinese temples, the Kun Yam Temple - of the Goddess of Mercy - stands as a sentinel to the past. Another landmark is the facade of Sao Paulo - of St Paul - erected between 1594 and 1602, standing as a fragment of Portugal overseas.

    One of the prettiest scenes on the island is the road that leads to the Chinese border, a road lined with banyan tress some of which shelter a Catholic school from wind and sun. Each day the schoolchildren pass in sight of two flags: that of Portugal and of Communist China to mark the border.

    Not all streets on the island are so sun-filled. There are the scurrilous back streets where the dark business of opium and girls fills the air with darker odours.

    The market streets are busy with fruit and vegetable sellers, shoppers ambling merchants. The joss sticks and the fish dry in the sun, the lottery ticket office is agog, like the licensed gambling houses, and the cinemas too - packed with eager audiences viewing Communist movies.

    And with Communist China on the doorstep or rather just down the road - the thin route that links the island to the mainland - Macao lives on the horns of a question mark for no Highway Code would apply should Peking realise its threat.

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    Reuters - Including Visnews
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    Available on request
    Black & White
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