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China and Portugal Agree on Return of Macao

March 23, 1987

BEIJING (AP) _ Portugal will return Macao to China in the year 1999, ending its 440-year rule of the tiny enclave off southern China, Portugal’s ambassador here said today at the end of nine months of negotiations.

Ambassador Octavio Valerio told reporters that Macao, with a population of about 450,000, will revert to Chinese sovereignty on Dec. 20, 1999. Other Portuguese sources confirmed the date.

Macao is Portugal’s last overseas possession and the last Western colonial foothold in China.

The announcement came as the two nations concluded their fourth round of talks on Macao. The round began last Wednesday.

In a press communique, the two sides said they had ″considered the draft texts of the agreement and reached an identity of views on the contents of the texts.″

They said a joint declaration will be initialed in Beijing on Thursday by the heads of the two delegations - Portugal’s ambassador to the United Nations, Rui Medina, and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhou Nan.

A formal signing ceremony for the turnover agreement is expected to be held in Beijing around June, with Portuguese President Mario Soares or another top official likely to attend.

Neither Valerio nor the communique provided any details of the draft agreement, but Valerio said his country was ″happy with the results.″

It is believed the agreement will follow the model of that signed between China and Britain in 1984 on the reversion of Hong Kong in 1997. The thriving British colony 40 miles from Macao will keep its capitalist ways for half a century under China’s policy of ″one country, two systems.″

Portuguese traders settled Macao in 1557 and Portuguese is the official language of government. But about 97 percent of Macao’s people are of Chinese origin and Cantonese is used by virtually the entire population.

The total area of Macao, which consists of a peninsula and two small islands at the mouth of the Canton River, is 6 square miles.

Gambling is its biggest draw, attracting more than 4 million tourists a year and accounting for 25 percent of the enclave’s tax revenue. The Chinese have said they will not shut down the casinos, although gambling is illegal in China.

In May 1985, China and Portugal announced that negotiations would be held on Macao and the first round was held in Beijing last June.

The talks had been expected to be wrapped up last week, but were extended, reportedly because of a dispute over the citizenship rights of Chinese residents of Macao.

Portugal wants to guarantee the Chinese inhabitants a right to Portuguese citizenship, but China rejected proposals they be given dual nationality, according to Portuguese media reports.

Soares, Portugal’s president, held a meeting over the weekend in Lisbon of the Council of State, his top advisory body, to study a draft of the agreement.

Valerio confirmed that the nationality issue was discussed at length, but did not say how it had been resolved.

China’s National People’s Congress, which opens an annual session this week, is expected to formally ratify the draft agreement for the Chinese side.

Lisbon had originally hoped to keep Macao until 2007, the 450th anniversary of Chinese rule, but Beijing stated at the end of last year return of the territory after the year 2000 was unacceptable.

China hopes the reversion of Hong Kong and Macao will provide a model for eventual reunification with Taiwan.

Update hourly