The birthday of Japanese Emperor Akihito on December 23 was marked by a discreet celebration in Macau at the Okura Hotel on December 16. Located within the Galaxy complex in Cotai, the hotel is one of the few tangible results of Japanese investment in Macau. Its common areas are sober and sophisticated. The ceramic artwork hanging above the reception counter is a delightful example of Japanese imagery and imagination: a seascape mosaic that reflects the nation’s seclusion and density. The Consul-General of Japan in Hong Kong, Mr Kuninori Matsuda, was present along with several members of the Japanese consular delegation, who came all the way across the Delta to honour their emperor in Macau. Note that it was Secretary Lionel Leong Vai Tac, and not Secretary Alexis Tam Chong Veng, who attended the event as the representative of Macau’s government.
For centuries, China and Japan have been at odds politically. Commercial bans enacted against Japan during the modern history of China, war, occupation by the Japanese, the exchange of political discourtesies since then, and recent territorial disputes have soured political relations. Yet these two countries, which have the world’s second and third richest economies, exchange an enormous volume of bilateral trade. Japan is China’s second largest commercial partner, following the United States. China is Japan’s largest trading partner. Political differences aside, they mutually benefit from economic ties in many sectors, from cars and computers to oil and iron ore.
Following the enactment of a bill on the liberalization of casino gambling in Japan on 14 December, it seems Japan and China, via Macau, will soon be competing for markets in a sector that is this city’s raison d’être. Analysts estimate that the market in Japan is huge – millions of pachinko-lovers offer but a glimpse of its potential – and that it may attract high-rollers from Mainland China less keen to come to Macau under the current political conjuncture.
Yet seeing Secretary Leong side-by-side with the Japanese consul sent another message. Investors in and from Macau have long been interested in gaining further access to the Japanese market. Commercial ventures and partnerships in gambling, entertainment, and the manufacturing and distribution of slot machines, for instance, already exist between companies in Macau and Japan, and may gain further momentum with the coming liberalization. One might even think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.