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Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR)

The governors of China’s provinces and autonomous regions and mayors of its centrally controlled municipalities are appointed by the central government in Beijing after receiving the nominal consent of the National People’s Congress (NPC). The Hong Kong and Macau special administrative regions (SARs) have some local autonomy since they have separate governments, legal systems, and basic constitutional laws, but they come under Beijing’s control in matters of foreign affairs and national security, and their chief executives are handpicked by the central government. China has two special administrative regions, Hong Kong (Xianggang in Putonghua) and Macau (Aomen in Putonghua).

The area that came 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.

Hong Kong Map Hong Kong Map

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. 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.

The law limits citizens’ ability to change their government. Only a small fraction of citizens play a role in the selection of the chief executive, who was chosen in 2009 by a 300-member Election Committee consisting of 254 members elected from four broad societal sectors (which have a limited franchise) and 46 members chosen from among the SAR’s legislators and representatives to the NPC and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Observers noted that wealthy candidates sponsored banquets, entertainment events, and transportation for supporters. The prosecutor general said his office investigated 10 cases of election bribery. Police arrested two individuals for offering illegal “incentives” to voters and detained 14 voters for further investigation for voting irregularities. Two prodemocracy candidates reported that the government censored their public election platform, which called for an allegedly tainted top official to resign and an investigation of a potentially corrupt business deal brokered by the former chief executive.

There are limits on the types of bills that legislators may introduce. The law stipulates that legislators may not initiate legislation related to public expenditure, the SAR’s political structure, or the operation of the government. Proposed legislation related to government policies must receive the chief executive’s written approval before it is introduced. The Legislative Assembly also has no power of confirmation over executive or judicial appointments.

A 10-member Executive Council functions as an unofficial cabinet, approving draft legislation before it is presented in the Legislative Assembly. The Basic Law stipulates that the chief executive appoint members of the Executive Council from among the principal officials of the executive authorities, members of the legislature, and public figures.

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. The law criminalizes treason, secession, subversion of the PRC government, and theft of “state secrets,” as well as “acts in preparation” to commit these offenses. The crimes of treason, secession, and subversion specifically require the use of violence, and the government stated that the law would not be used to infringe on peaceful political activism or media freedom.

The independent media are active and express a wide range of views, and international media operate freely. Major newspapers were heavily subsidized by the government and tended to follow closely the PRC government’s policy on sensitive political issues, such as Taiwan; however, they generally reported freely on the SAR, including criticism of the government. Some journalists who wrote disparagingly of the government complained about disciplinary actions, such as temporary suspension, delayed promotion, and assignments covering less important stories.

The law provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The law requires prior notification, but not approval, of demonstrations that involve the use of public roads, public places, or places open to the public. In cases in which authorities tried to restrict access to public venues for demonstrations or other public events, the courts generally ruled in favor of the applicants. Police may redirect march routes, and organizers have the right to challenge such decisions in court. Activists reported that police routinely attempt to intimidate demonstrators by ostentatiously taking videos of them and advising bystanders not to participate in protests. Activists also state that authorities give orders to demonstrators verbally rather than through written communication, which made it difficult to challenge their decisions in court.

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Page last modified: 02-07-2014 19:18:09 ZULU