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China's Special Administrative Regions (SARs)

China has two special administrative regions, Hong Kong (Xianggang in Putonghua) and Macau (Aomen in Putonghua).

As a result of the First Anglo- Chinese War (1842), China ceded Hong Kong Island to the United Kingdom under the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842. In 1860 the British acquired in perpetuity the Kowloon (Jiulong) Peninsula under the Convention of Beijing. The remaining area, the New Territories, was leased for 99 years in 1898. The Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong was signed between the Chinese and British Governments in 1984. The entire colony was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR).

Although originally the 1,092-square-kilometer area was part of Guangdong Province, the Hong Kong SAR reports directly to the State Council in Beijing. The head of state of Hong Kong is the president of China, Hu Jintao. The head of government is a Beijing appointee, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. Hong Kong, with an estimated 6,940,432 people (as of July 2006), has a partly popularly elected legislature and operates under the Basic Law, which embodies the principle of “one country, two systems” and states that the socialist system and policies shall not be practiced in Hong Kong; Hong Kong’s previous capitalist system and lifestyle are to remain unchanged until 2047.

The Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAR was adopted on April 4, 1990, by the National People’s Congress (NPC) and came into effect on July 1, 1997.

Chinese and English are the official languages of Hong Kong.

The area that has come to be called Macau had been a maritime way station between China and India and regions farther west since the early sixteenth century. Portugal first obtained a leasehold on the area from the Qing court in 1557, although China retained sovereignty. In 1844, without Beijing’s concurrence, Lisbon made Macau an overseas province of Portugal. Although China recognized Macau as a Portuguese colony in an 1862 treaty signed with Portugal, the treaty was never ratified by China, and Macau was never officially ceded to Portugal.

A protocol dealing with relations between China and Portugal was signed in Lisbon in 1887 confirming the “perpetual occupation and government” of Macau by Portugal (with Portugal’s promise “never to alienate Macau and dependencies without agreement with China”). The islands of Taipa and Coloane also were ceded to Portugal, but the border of the Macau Peninsula with the mainland was not delimited. The Treaty of Commerce and Friendship (1888) recognized Portuguese sovereignty over Macau but again was never actually ratified by China. In 1974 the new Portuguese government granted independence to all overseas colonies and recognized Macau as part of China's territory. In 1979 China and Portugal exchanged diplomatic recognition, and Beijing acknowledged Macau as “Chinese territory under Portuguese administration.” A joint communiqué signed in 1986 called for negotiations on the Macau question, and four rounds of talks followed between June 30, 1986, and March 26, 1987.

The Joint Declaration on the Question of Macau was signed in Beijing on April 13, 1987, setting the stage for the return of Macau to full Chinese sovereignty as a special administrative region on December 20, 1999. Although originally the now 28.2-square-kilometer area was part of Guangdong Province, the Macau SAR reports directly to the State Council in Beijing. Macau’s head of state is the president of China. The head of government is a Beijing appointee, Chief Executive Edmund H.W. Ho. Macau, numbering an estimated 453,125 people (in July 2006), also has a partly popularly elected legislature and operates under the Basic Law of the Macau SAR, adopted by the NPC in 1993 and taking effect on December 20, 1999.

Like the Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAR, Macau’s basic law covers the relationship between the central government and Macau; the fundamental rights and duties of the residents; the political structure; the economy and cultural and social affairs; external affairs; and the amendment process. Chinese and Portuguese are the official languages of Macau.

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