The Macau Special Administrative Region, commonly known as Macau or Macao, is one of the two special administrative regions of the People's Republic of China, the other being Hong Kong. Macau lies on the western side of the Pearl River Delta, bordering Guangdong province in the north and facing the South China Sea in the east and south. The territory has thriving industries such as textiles, electronics and toys, and a notable tourist industry that boasts a wide range of hotels, resorts, stadiums, restaurants and casinos. Macau was both the first and the last European colony in China. Portuguese traders first settled in Macau in the 16th century and subsequently administered the region until the handover on December 20, 1999. The Sino-Portuguese Joint Declaration and the Basic Law of Macau stipulate that Macau operates with a high degree of autonomy until at least 2049, fifty years after the transfer. Under the policy of "one country, two systems", the Central People's Government is responsible for the territory's defense and foreign affairs, while Macau maintains its own legal system, police force, monetary system, customs policy, immigration policy, and delegates to international organisations and events.
Geography & Climate
Macau is situated 60 kilometres (37 mi) southwest of Hong Kong and 145 kilometres (90 mi) from Guangzhou. It consists of the Macau Peninsula itself and the islands of Taipa and Coloane. The peninsula is formed by the Zhujiang (Pearl River) estuary on the east and the Xijiang (West River) on the west. It borders the Zhuhai Special Economic Zone in mainland China. The main border crossing between Macau and China is known as the Portas do Cerco (Barrier Gate) on the Macau side, and the Gongbei checkpoint on the Zhuhai side. Macau Peninsula was originally an island, but a connecting sandbar gradually turned into a narrow isthmus, thus changing Macau into a peninsula. Land reclamation in the 17th century transformed Macau into a peninsula with generally flat terrain, though numerous steep hills still mark the original land mass. Alto de Coloane is the highest point in Macau, with an altitude of 170.6 metres (559.7 ft). With a dense urban environment, Macau has no arable land, pastures, forest, or woodland. Macau has a humid subtropical climate, with average humidity between 75% and 90%. Seasonal climate is greatly influenced by the monsoons and therefore temperature difference between summer and winter is significant. The average annual temperature of Macau is 22.3 °C (72.1 °F). July is the warmest month, with average temperature being 28.6 °C (83.5 °F). The coolest month is January, with average temperature 14.5 °C (58.1 °F). Located in the coastal region of south of China, Macau has ample rainfall, with average annual precipitation being 2,030 millimetres (79.9 in). However, winter is mostly dry due to the monsoon from mainland China. Autumn in Macau is sunny and warm with low humidity. Winter is relatively cold but sunny. In spring, the humidity starts to increase and in summer, the climate is warm to hot and humid with rain and occasional typhoons.
The mixing of the Chinese and Portuguese cultures and religious traditions for more than four centuries has left Macau with an inimitable collection of holidays, festivals and events. The biggest event of the year is the Macau Grand Prix in November, when the main streets in Macau Peninsula are converted to a racetrack bearing similarities with the Monaco Grand Prix. Other annual events include Macau Arts festival in March, the International Fireworks Display Contest in September, the International Music festival in October and/or November, and the Macau International Marathon in December.
The Lunar Chinese New Year is the most important traditional festival and celebration normally takes place in late January or early February. The Pou Tai Un Temple in Taipa is the place for the Feast of Tou Tei, the Earth god, in February. The Procession of the Passion of Our Lord is a well-known Catholic rite and journey, which travels from Igreja de Santo Agostinho to Igreja da Sé Catedral, also taking place in February. A-Ma Temple, which honours the Goddess Matsu, is in full swing in April with many congratulant worshippers during the A-Ma festival. To look on dancing dragons at the Feast of the Drunken Dragon and twinkling-clean Buddhas at the Feast of Bathing of Lord Buddha in May is common. In Coloane Village, the Taoist god Tam Kong is also honoured on the same day. Dragon Boat festival is brought into play on Nam Van Lake in June and Hungry Ghosts' festival, in late August and/or early September every year. All events and festivities of the year end with Winter Solstice in December.
Local cooking in Macau consists of a blend of Cantonese and Portuguese cuisines. Many unique dishes resulted from the spice blends that the wives of Portuguese sailors used in an attempt to replicate European dishes. Its ingredients and seasonings include those from Europe, South America, Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, as well as local Chinese ingredients. Typically, Macanese food is seasoned with various spices and flavours including turmeric, coconut milk, cinnamon and bacalhau, giving special aromas and tastes. Famous dishes include Galinha à Portuguesa, Galinha à Africana (African chicken), Bacalhau, Macanese Chili Shrimps and stir-fry curry crab. Pork chop bun, ginger milk and Portuguese-style egg tart are also very popular in Macau.
Macau preserves many historical properties in the urban area. The Historic Centre of Macau, which includes some twenty-five historic monuments and public squares, was officially listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO on July 15, 2005 during the 29th session of the World Heritage Committee, held in Durban, South Africa.
While the traffic in mainland China drives on the right, in Macau traffic moves on the left. Macau has a well-established public transport network connecting the Macau Peninsula, Cotai, Taipa Island and Coloane Island. Buses and taxis are the major modes of public transport in Macau. Currently two companies, namely Transmac and Transportas Companhia de Macau, operate franchised public bus services in Macau. The trishaw, a hybrid of the tricycle and the rickshaw, is also available, though it is mainly for sightseeing purposes.
The Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal provides cross-border transportation services for passengers travelling between Macau and Hong Kong, while the Yuet Tung Terminal in the Inner Harbour serves those travelling between Macau and cities in mainland China, including Shekou and Shenzhen. Macau has one active international airport, known as Macau International Airport located at the eastern end of Taipa and neighbouring waters. Since currently there are no regular direct passenger-flights between mainland China and Taiwan, the airport serves as a transient avenue for the passengers travelling between the two regions. It is the primary hub for Viva Macau and Air Macau. In 2006, the airport handled about 5 million passengers.
Macau's economy is based largely on tourism, much of it geared toward gambling. Other chief economic activities in Macau are export-geared textile and garment manufacturing, banking and other financial services. The clothing industry has provided about three quarters of export earnings, and the gaming, tourism and hospitality industry is estimated to contribute more than 50% of Macau's GDP, and 70% of Macau government revenue.
Macau is a founding member of the WTO and has maintained sound economic and trade relations with more than 120 countries and regions, with European Union and Portuguese-speaking countries in particular; Macau is also a member of the IMF. World Bank classifies Macau as a high income economy and the GDP per capita of the region in 2006 was US$28,436. After the Handover in 1999, there has been a rapid rise in the number of mainland visitors due to China's easing of travel restrictions. Together with the liberalization of Macau's gaming industry in 2001 that induces significant investment inflows, the average growth rate of the economy between 2001 and 2006 is approximately 13.1% annually. In a World Tourism Organization report of international tourism statistics for 2006, Macau ranked 21st in terms of tourist arrivals and 24th in terms of tourism receipts. From 9.1 million visitors in 2000, arrivals to Macau has grown to 18.7 million visitors in 2005 and 22 million visitors in 2006, with over 50% of the arrivals coming from mainland China and another 30% from Hong Kong. Macau is expected to receive between 24 and 25 million visitors in 2007. Since the Handover, Triad underworld violence, a deterring factor for tourists, has virtually disappeared, to the benefit of the tourism sector.
Starting in 1962, the gambling industry had been operated under a government-issued monopoly license by Stanley Ho's Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau. The monopoly ended in 2002, and several casino owners from Las Vegas attempted to enter the market. With the opening of the Sands Macau, the largest casino in the world as measured by total number of table games, in 2004 and Wynn Macau in 2006, gambling revenues from Macau's casinos were for the first time greater than those of Las Vegas Strip (each about $6 billion), making Macau the highest-volume gambling centre in the world. In 2007, Venetian Macau, the second largest building in the world, opened its doors to the public, followed by MGM Grand Macau. Numerous other hotel casinos, including Galaxy Cotai Megaresort and Ponte 16, are also to be opened in the near future. In 2002, the Macau government ended the monopoly system and six casino operating concessions and subconcessions are granted to Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau, Wynn Resorts, Las Vegas Sands, Galaxy Entertainment Group, the partnership of MGM Mirage and Pansy Ho Chiu-king, and the partnership of Melco and PBL. Today, there are 16 casinos operated by the STDM, and they are still crucial in the casino industry in Macau, but in 2004, the opening of the Sands Macau ushered in the new era.
Macau is an offshore financial centre, a tax haven, and a free port with no foreign exchange control regimes. The offshore finance business is regulated and supervised by the Monetary Authority of Macau, while the regulation and supervision of the offshore non-finance business is mainly controlled by the Macau Trade and Investment Promotion Institute. In 2007, Moody's Investors Service upgraded Macau's foreign and local currency government issuer ratings to 'Aa3' from 'A1', citing its government's solid finances as a large net creditor. The rating agency also upgraded Macau's foreign currency bank deposit ceiling to 'Aa3' from 'A1'. As prescribed by the Macau Basic Law, the government follows the principle of keeping expenditure within the limits of revenues in drawing up its budget, and strive to achieve a fiscal balance, avoid deficits and keep the budget commensurate with the growth rate of its gross domestic product. All the financial revenues of the Macau Special Administrative Region shall be managed and controlled by the Region itself and shall not be handed over to the Central People's Government. The Central People's Government shall not levy any taxes in the Macau Special Administrative Region.