Macau's Transfer of Sovereignty

Twenty Years in the Making

Portugal and the People's Republic of China planned and executed the handover of Macau over a twenty year period -- ending European colonialism in Asia.

Years:  1979 — 1999

Portugal and the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic relations on February 8, 1979, acknowledging Macau as “Chinese territory under Portuguese administration.” A year later, Gen. Melo Egídio became the first governor of Macau to pay an official visit to Beijing. The visit underscored both countries’ interest in finding a mutually-agreeable solution to Macau’s status. A joint communique signed on May 20, 1986, called for negotiations on the Macau question. 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 transfer of sovereignty of Macau to China on December 20, 1999.

In the years leading up to the transfer, the last Portuguese Governor of Macau, Gen. Rocha Vieira, improved Macau’s infrastructure by building a second bridge connecting Macau and Taipa Island (1994), an international airport (1995), a stadium (1997), large cultural event venues, as well as introducing a comprehensive program of social housing.

The Chinese government promised that, under its “one country, two systems” rule, China’s economic system would not be practiced in Macau and that Macau would enjoy a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign and defense until at least 2049 -- fifty years post-transfer.

The history of European colonization of Asia ended with Macau. Although offered control of Macau as early as the 1970s, China deemed the time “not yet ripe” and preferred to wait until December, 1999, to make Macau a Special Administrative Region of China and complete the final chapter of the history of the Portuguese in Macau.  Though it must be noted that Chinese and Portuguese are both considered the official languages of Macau to this day.

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