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Sunday, 19 December, 1999, 23:59 GMT
Portuguese president bids Macau farewell

Sampaio at podium President Sampaio walks to the podium as Chinese President Jiang looks on

A few minutes before the midnight handover of Macau to China, Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio made a speech, reflecting on the change of sovereignty and the end of European colonies in Asia.

Your Excellency Mr President of the Republic, Your Excellencies, Esteemed Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

The ceremony that gathered us here today represents an essential and unique moment in Macau's history.

For Portugal it is not just a question of the solemn handover of the exercise of sovereignty over Macau to the People's Republic of China, but rather, through this handover, to reiterate to the international community so broadly represented here, its solidarity with and commitment to the future of the territory within the framework of the autonomy statute guaranteed by the Joint Sino-Portuguese Declaration.

Meeting point

And if it is important for relations between Portugal and China that Macau has been a privileged meeting point for its cultures and peoples, the agreement reached between by the two states on the territory's statute represents a sensible and peaceful way of entering into a new stage in their centuries-old relationship by changing what the new realities in the two countries demanded, and by maintaining all that makes Macau unique.

President Sampaio and time capsule President Sampaio seals a time capsule before leaving Macau
Here, where in such an obvious way different cultures and interests have coexisted and determined a specific and irreplaceable way of life, the Macau Special Administrative Region will be instituted. Within this framework the territory will enjoy a high level of autonomy, set down in its own legislative and executive institutions and by a judicial power served by independent courts which will try from first instance to ultimate appeal matters which pertain exclusively to Macau and its residents.

Free and democratic

It was this political and administrative statute, based on the primacy of the law, under which the people of Macau themselves will govern their homeland in a free and democratic manner, that China and Portugal agreed upon in the Joint Declaration of 1987, with the firm undertaking that the inhabitants of the territory would continue to enjoy the rights, freedoms and guarantees which are the legacy of their way of life and made the singularity and prosperity of this land.

President Sampaio No more need of flags: President Sampaio takes down the Portuguese colours at a monument to poet Luis de Camoes
But if the Joint Declaration has proved to be the most appropriate way to draw up Macau's future, it has also been, and it will continue to be, a very special reference for extra attention by the international community on this small territory and on the unique reality which history has created here.

It is this reality which, with the same physiognomy, will move into the next century under the flag of the People's Republic of China, with the status of respectful coexistence between social models which the formula of one-country-two-systems has unreservedly expressed.

Modernity and progress

Macau emerges today before this international community with the instruments of modernity and progress, in legitimate partnership with all those who reached the most exacting compromises for the promotion and safeguarding of human rights, including the International Pact on Civil and Political Rights and the International Pact of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

It is with this universal citizenship of values and rights that Macau will remain a crossroads between Europe and Asia. In this way Macau will maintain its centuries-old vocation as a mediator between peoples, civilizations and interests and hence it will strengthen its own identity.


It was for the preservation of Macau's identity, which inherits a history forged together by Portuguese and Chinese, that China and Portugal established a laborious cooperation in the last 12 years. Through the implementation of the Joint Declaration the relationship between Portugal and Chinas was strengthened, and Macau and its guaranteed autonomy status have emerged more clearly.

To all those who contributed to this success goes a word of great appreciation and recognition.

Ladies and Gentlemen. In an international community in which everyone's destiny is everyone's concern, Portugal will maintain its solidarity with Macau and its commitment to its future, certain that here too democracy and liberty are an irreplaceable reality and a guarantee of peace and progress for all peoples. Thank you.

BBC Monitoring based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages

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