'One Country, Two Systems' in Macao SAR
Alexandr Svetlicinii
The Macao Tower, Sai Van Lake and Nam Van Lake in south China's Macao. /Xinhua

The Macao Tower, Sai Van Lake and Nam Van Lake in south China's Macao. /Xinhua

Editor's note: Alexandr Svetlicinii is associate professor of Law at the University of Macau, where he also serves as program coordinator for the Master of Law in International Business Law in English Language. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

January 11 marks the 40th anniversary of the "One Country, Two Systems" concept formulated by late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982. Initially proposed for the peaceful reunification with China's Taiwan, this approach has been used for the resumption of the People's Republic of China's (PRC) sovereignty over Hong Kong (1997) and Macao (1999). This article looks at the implementation of the "One Country, Two Systems" approach in the Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR), which celebrated the 22nd anniversary of its establishment on December 20, 2021.

The "One Country, Two Systems" concept essentially includes two inter-connected elements: the unity between the Chinese mainland and its two SARs ("one country" element) and the autonomy of the SARs in organizing their political, economic and social structures ("two systems" element). The example of the Macao SAR demonstrates how a combination of the two elements contributed to the stability and prosperity of the region.

From the outset of its establishment in 1999, the Macao SAR has enjoyed a high degree of autonomy in using its executive, legislative and judicial powers. The stability of Macao's political, economic and social structures was ensured by the principle of continuity, which allowed preserving local laws and policies that did not contradict the PRC's Constitution.

The "One Country, Two Systems" arrangement allowed Macao to preserve its low tax status and significantly expand the revenues from the gaming and tourism industries. The Macao SAR kept an open door to the world implementing free trade policy without foreign exchange controls, thus safeguarding free movement of goods, intangible assets and capital. According to Macao SAR's Statistics and Census Service, the unprecedented economic growth allowed the SAR to increase its GDP from MOP 55billion ($6.86 billion) in 2001 to MOP 446 billion ($55.62 billion) in 2019. And already in 2006, Macao surpassed Las Vegas in gaming revenues by becoming the world's largest gaming hub, based on industry analysts and government figures released and quoted by the New York Times. At the same time, the implementation of continuity principle allowed the SAR to preserve Portuguese as one of the official languages and maintain cultural and educational exchanges with Portugal and other Lusophone countries.

Shenzhen Talent Park in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province. /Xinhua

Shenzhen Talent Park in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province. /Xinhua

However, in 2020, Macao's GDP dropped by more than 50 percent as the region's tourism and gaming industries were affected by travel restrictions caused by COVID-19 pandemic. It revealed the vulnerability of Macao in its heavy reliance on the gaming and tourism sector, emphasizing the need for further economic diversification. In times like these the economic and developmental dimension of the "one country" element became especially pronounced since Macao as never before required support from the PRC central government.

This support was always forthcoming as the Macao SAR was included in several national industrial policies offering the region a unique opportunity to benefit from China's economic growth, its economic relations with third countries and better economic integration with the neighboring Hong Kong SAR and Guangdong Province. After Macao returned to China in 1999, President Xi Jinping has visited Macao six times and the adjacent Hengqin area in Guangdong Province four times, which indicates the great importance accorded to the region's economic development and prosperity.

In 2015, the Macao SAR was attributed a special role within the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), especially its Maritime Silk Road, which was incorporated in the Macao's Five-Year Development Plan (2016-2020). The SAR also has a special role in the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, which will further solidify its status as a world-class tourism and leisure center. Furthermore, Macao was offered an opportunity to benefit from China's economic relations with developing countries as the region was designated the seat of the Permanent Secretariat of the Forum for Economic and Trade Cooperation between China and Portuguese-speaking Countries.

Finally, in 2021, while the battle with coronavirus was still ongoing, the central government reaffirmed its support to economic diversification of Macao by releasing a detailed master plan for the development of the adjacent Hengqin area of Guangdong Province. The plan laid down several priority industries that are to be fostered in Hengqin: scientific and technological research, traditional Chinese medicine, tourism, convention and exhibition services, and modern financial services.

All of the above developments have been possible under the principle of "One Country, Two Systems," demonstrating its viability and flexibility in allowing to not only preserve but also further develop the unique characteristics of the Macao SAR, thus contributing to the stability and prosperity of the region.

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