U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES: MACAU, AUGUST 1994
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Official Name: Macau
Area: 16 sq. km. (6 sq. mi.) on a peninsula connected to
China and the southern islands of Taipa (3.4 sq. km.) and
Coloane (7.2 sq. km.) linked by bridge and causeway.
Terrain: Coastline is flat, inland is hilly and rocky.
Climate: Tropical monsoon; cool and humid in winter, hot
and rainy from spring through summer.
Nationality: Noun--Macanese (sing. and pl.).
Ethnic groups: Chinese 95%, Portuguese 3%.
Religions: Buddhist 45%, Roman Catholic 9%.
Languages: In 1992, the government gave the Chinese
(Cantonese) language official status and the same legal
force as Portuguese, the official language.
Work Force: Industry and commerce--68%. Services--12%.
Agriculture and fishing--9%.
Type: Chinese territory under Portuguese administration;
China regains sovereignty on December 20, 1999.
Branches: Executive--governor (head of government),
president of Portugal (chief of state), Consultative Council
(cabinet). Legislative--Legislative Assembly. Judicial--
special courts (administrative), ordinary courts (civil and
criminal), Supreme Court.
Administrative subdivisions: Two districts--Macau and the
islands (Taipa and Coloane).
GDP (1992): $5 billion.
Annual growth rate: 6%.
Per capita GDP (est.): $12,500.
Natural resources: None.
Agriculture: Products--rice and vegetables; most foodstuffs
and water are imported.
Industry: Tourism and gambling; textiles, construction, and
real estate development.
Trade (1991): Exports--$2.9 billion: textiles and clothing,
manufactured goods (especially toys). Major markets--U.S.
36%, Hong Kong 13%, China 10%. Imports--$1.6 billion:
consumer goods, foodstuffs. Major suppliers--Hong Kong 33%,
China 21%, Japan 18%, U.S. 5%.
Exchange rate: 8 patacas=U.S.$1; officially tied to U.S.-
Hong Kong exchange rate, since 1977.
Macau's population is 95% Chinese, primarily Cantonese and
some Hakka, both from nearby Guangdong Province. The
remainder are of Portuguese or mixed Chinese-Portuguese
The official languages are Portuguese, and Chinese
(Cantonese). English is spoken in tourist areas.
Macau has only one university (University of Macau); most of
its 7,700 students are from Hong Kong.
Chinese records of Macau date back to the establishment in
1152 of Xiangshan County under which Macau was administered,
though it remained unpopulated through most of the next
century. Members of the South Sung (Song) Dynasty and some
50,000 followers were the first recorded inhabitants of the
area, seeking refuge in Macau from invading Mongols in 1277.
They were able to defend their settlements and establish
The Hoklo Boat people were the first to show commercial
interest in Macau as a trading center for the southern
provinces. Macau did not develop as a major settlement until
the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century. Portuguese
traders used Macau as a staging port as early as 1516,
making it the oldest European settlement in the Far East.
In 1557, the Chinese agreed to a Portuguese settlement in
Macau but did not recognize Portuguese sovereignty.
Although a Portuguese municipal government was established,
the sovereignty question remained unresolved.
Initially, the Portuguese developed Macau's port as a
trading post for China-Japan trade and as a staging port on
the long voyage from Lisbon to Nagasaki. When Chinese
officials banned direct trade with Japan in 1547, Macau's
Portuguese traders carried goods between the two countries.
The first Portuguese governor was appointed to Macau in
1680, but the Chinese continued to assert their authority,
collecting land and customs taxes. Portugal continued to
pay rent to China until 1849, when the Portuguese abolished
the Chinese customs house and declared Macau's
"independence," a year which also saw Chinese retaliation
and finally the assassination of Governor Ferreira do
On March 26, 1887, the Manchu Government acknowledged the
Portuguese right of "perpetual occupation." The Manchu-
Portuguese agreement, known as the Protocol of Lisbon, was
signed with the condition that Portugal would never
surrender Macau to a third party without China's permission.
Macau enjoyed a brief period of economic prosperity during
World War II as the only neutral port in South China, after
the Japanese occupied Guangzhou (Canton) and Hong Kong. In
1943, Japan created a virtual protectorate over Macau.
Japanese domination ended in August 1945.
When the Chinese communists came to power in 1949, they
declared the Protocol of Lisbon to be invalid as an "unequal
treaty" imposed by foreigners on China. However, Beijing
was not ready to settle the treaty question, requesting a
maintenance of "the status quo" until a more appropriate
time. Beijing took a similar position on treaties relating
to the Hong Kong territories.
Riots broke out in 1966 when the pro-communist Chinese
elements and the Macau police clashed. The Portuguese
Government reached an agreement with China to end the flow
of refugees from China, and to prohibit all communist
demonstrations. This move ended the conflict, and relations
between the government and the leftist organizations have
The Portuguese tried once in 1966 after the riots in Macau,
and again in 1974, the year of a military revolution in
Portugal, to return Macau to Chinese sovereignty. China
refused to reclaim Macau however, hoping to settle the
question of Hong Kong first.
Portugal and China established diplo-matic relations in
1979. A year later, Gen. Melo Egidio became the first
Governor of Macau to visit China. The visit underscored
both parties' interest in finding a mutually agreeable
solution to Macau's status; negotiations began in 1985, a
year after the signing of the Sino-U.K. agreement returning
Hong Kong to China in 1997. The result was a 1987 agreement
returning Macau to Chinese sovereignty as a Special
Administrative Region (SAR) of China on December 20, 1999.
The governor general of Macau is the ranking civil and
military official. Nominated by the president of Portugal,
the governor is assisted by five deputy secretaries
responsible for the administration of key government
sectors. The Legislative Assembly was established in 1974.
The assembly consists of 23 members: 8 are elected in
universal, direct elections, 8 are indirectly elected by
representatives of cultural, economic, and religious groups,
and 7 are appointed by the governor. The assembly's powers
The Consultative Council, an elected and appointed advisory
group, advises the governor and provides some measure of
Macau's courts are independent of the executive. They are
integrated into the Portuguese judicial system, and appeals
are directed to the superior Portuguese courts in Lisbon.
However, Macau established a High Court of Justice in 1992
which started service in 1993. This will give the enclave
nearly complete judicial autonomy, although in cases
involving "basic rights of the citizen," defendants may
appeal to Portugal's Constitutional Court, where all lower
court rulings can be overturned.
In early 1993, the Sino-Portuguese Joint Liaison Group
completed work on Macau's mini-constitution that will govern
the territory when it reverts to Chinese rule; it was
ratified by the Chinese National People's Congress in the
spring of 1993.
Principal Government Officials
Head of Government: Governor--Vasco Joachim Rocha Viera
Metropolitan Officials (Portugal): President--Mario Soares
Prime Minister--Anibal Cavaco Silva
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Jose Manuel Durao Barroso
Ambassador to the United Nations--Pedro Catarino
Ambassador to the United States--Francisco Jose Laco
The embassy of Portugal is located at: 2125 Kalorama Road
NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-328-8610).
Gambling and tourism, textiles, manufacturing, and
construction and real estate development sparked the rapid
growth of Macau's economy in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Total 1991 export earnings were $1.7 billion. The United
States is Macau's leading export market. Portugal receives
about 3% of Macau's exports.
Tourism and gambling account for 46% of GDP, manufacturing
35%, construction 9%, government and public authorities 5%,
and agriculture and fishing 5%. Macau has many deluxe and
first-class hotels. Although small quantities of rice and
vegetables are grown locally, Macau imports most of its
foodstuffs and all of its water from China. In 1991,
imports amounted to about $1.6 billion, one third of which
came from Hong Kong.
An international airport is under construction and is
projected to open in 1995. There are no rail connections
with China, which can be reached by road and ferry.
Connections to Hong Kong are made by ferry, hydrofoil, or
jetfoil. The new bridge between Macau and Taipa, "Bridge of
Friendship," was opened officially in April 1994 by the
prime minister of Portugal.
Silt from the Pearl River traditionally has clogged Macau's
port. However, construction of a deep water port and
storage facility are underway and due to be completed in the
mid-1990s. Most of Macau's trade, except with the interior
of China, passes through Hong Kong. Several million
tourists and business travelers visit Macau each year.
Among Macau's tourist attractions are its Mediterranean
atmosphere in an oriental setting, resort hotels and
gambling casinos, dog and horse racing, and the annual Macau
Grand Prix. In addition, one can easily cross the border at
the historic Barrier Gate to enter China.
Macau's unit of currency is the pataca. Pegged to the value
of the U.S. and Hong Kong dollars, a pataca is worth
slightly less than one Hong Kong dollar and is valued at 8
patacas to U.S. $1. The state-owned Instituto Emissor de
Macau issues currency and controls the money, finance, and
foreign exchange markets. There are numerous commercial
banks in Macau, many of which are foreign-owned (principally
European and Chinese).
Recent changes in the relations between the U.K. and China
have not affected relations between Portugal and China.
The U.S. Government has no offices in Macau. U.S. interests
are represented by the U.S. consulate general in Hong Kong.
Principal U.S. Officials:
Consul General--Richard W. Mueller
Deputy Principal Officer--Jeffrey A. Bader
The American consulate general is located at: 26 Garden
Road, Hong Kong
(tel. 011-852-523-9011) (FAX 011-852-845-4845 (consular);
Customs--U.S. passport holders do not need visas to enter
Transportation--Visitors can go to Macau from Hong Kong by
ferry (about a 3-hr. trip), or by hydrofoil or jetfoil
(about 1 hr.) from Hong Kong or Kowloon. Taxis are
plentiful and inexpensive. Several hotels provide
transportation from the ferry pier. Public buses are
Telecommunications--Most hotels have facilities for overseas
phone calls and cables. Most contain business centers with
a wide range of services. Overseas calls also can be made
from the General Post Office. Access to international
communications carriers is via Hong Kong and China. Macau
is 12-13 hours ahead of eastern standard time, depending on
daylight savings time in the United States.
Health--No inoculations are currently required. Travelers
should check latest information.
Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau
of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication --
Washington, DC -- November 1994 -- Managing Editor: Peter
Department of State Publication 8352
Background Notes Series -- This material is in the public
domain and may be reprinted without permission; citation of
this source is appreciated.
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.
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