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Mainland China “leases” land to Macau in historical first

Posted: 08/27/2013 10:30 am

In an interesting recent development that was actually finalized back in July — but one that perhaps only the keenest China-watchers will have read about — Macau is now one square kilometre larger thanks to the University of Macau’s new campus on Hengqin Island, a small area of the Zhuhai Special Economic Zone in south Guangdong.

“[This] is a historical moment and a monumental milestone for the development of both Macau and the Chinese mainland… [and] also bears testimony to the flexibility, innovation and potential of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle. Many people would regard such changes as inconceivable,” China Daily said in an article last week.

As if to signal just the extent to which the Central Government is serious about the area on Hengqin Island becoming a legitimate part of Macau under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework (as with Hong Kong), people there will be able to “practice academic freedom, have unrestricted Internet access, and enjoy social and political rights as they do in Macau [or Hong Kong].”

What is perhaps even more fascinating is the possibilities that this latest cooperation between the mainland and a Special Administrative Region could signal for the future.

“The Hengqin model can also serve as an important reference for the Hong Kong SAR (HKSAR), where development has come to a bottleneck. With the support of the central government, Shenzhen can consider leasing portions of its land to the HKSAR allowing the HKSAR government to exercise jurisdiction over it.”

What we are therefore seeing here may be the beginning of an entirely new and fundamentally different chapter in the story of China’s administration until now. We may begin to see more and more cooperation and “leasing” of highly innovative or developed areas in the mainland to various SAR regions. That is something that could potentially benefit both sides, and could be a step in the right direction in the longer-term goal of uniting the people’s of the “Two Systems.”

“Macau and Hong Kong will be asserting greater influence on the area. In the 1980s, Shenzhen was an economic experiment, and now this is a governance experiment,” Fu Hualing, a constitutional scholar at the University of Hong Kong, told The New York Times in July. For more details and insights into the whole project, I suggest you the a look at the NYT article, which includes research and interviews with experts in the field.

In any case, expect Hong Kong and Macau to have more influence in the Guangdong region as integration between the three areas is further realised — perhaps in unexpected ways. For now, the lease acquired by the Macau government on Hengqin only lasts 40 years, but it’s an interesting experiment and could perhaps be extended indefinitely after that. Tellingly, Macau’s status as a semi-autonomous region also expires in 2049.

Photo credit: University of Macau

  • dda

    The NYT article says: “But experts interviewed for this article said there was no recent precedence for a chunk of Chinese land being passed to another legal jurisdiction in this manner, and certainly not for the sake of academic freedom.”

    Obviously they asked the wrong people. Three words: Shenzhen Bay Immigration. The Hong Kong half is leased to HK; it is under HK law and management, and has its own Internet, power, and water supplied by and from HK).

    My flat in SZ is so close to SZ Bay immigration that I get to use internet via my Smartone USB dongle :-)

    • Michael de Waal-Montgomery

      Cool that you get access to the Internet! But SZ Bay has nothing to do with academics. This is allowing for an academic institution to technically exists on Mainland territory but remain entirely free of Chinese restraints and laws.

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