Are Hong Kong & Macau Countries?


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Welcome to Hong Kong: the island city of China packed with seven million people at unbelievable density. But if you, dear tourist, start from Victoria Harbor and head toward the mainland you'll find that while Hong Kong is China she doesn't act like it.

To cross the bridge your passport must be checked and stamped and checked and stamped. Not because you're a suspicious foreigner: Mainland Chinese can't just stroll across either, but rather because Hong Kong has her own immigration policy.

And Hong Kong isn't the only isolated island, there's nearby Macau with her own passport-checking bridge and a ferry between them -- which also checks passports. Travel from Hong Kong to Macau to the mainland and back and you'll end up with three stamps, and that goes for everyone: Hong Kongese can't just live in Macau and Macanese can't just live in Hong Kong and they both can just live on the mainland.

Yet it's all China. And inconvenient travel isn't the only speciality of these sister islands. They also have:

  • Separate governments and political parties.
  • Separate police.
  • Separate money.
  • Postal systems.
  • Schools.
  • and languages.

Hong Kong even has her own Olympic team which competed in the 2008 Beijing olympics which doesn't make any kind of sense.

The only things these sister islands don't have that other countries do:

1) Their own armies.

Though that isn't unique with modern countries, and…

2) Formal diplomatic relations.

Though even this unclear as both are members of international trade organizations. And other countries have 'embassies' in Hong Kong and Macau, sure China won't let them be called embassies, those are only for mighty Beijing -- they're called consulates even if they're bigger than Beijing's embassy.

All this makes Hong Kong and Macau, as mentioned in a previous video, the most country-like countries that aren't countries.

So why are they China?

China says so.

It's called 'One China, Two Systems' -- though fast-counters in the audience will see it should be called 'One China, Three Systems. Also there's China's special economic zones (where capitalism runs free) making it more like 'One China Four Systems' -- and if China got her way it might be 'One China, Five Systems'.

But we can't talk about everything so back to China, Hong Kong, and Macau (oh my!)

China ended up having these two essentialy city-states, as always, because Empire.

Portugal showed up in Asia in the 1500s and didn't exactly make friends. China and Portugal skirmished until Portugal used Bigger-pile-of-money diplomacy to bribe a local Chinese official into turning over the islands of Macau as a trading port.

Later, Britannia found China and discovered she had many of lovely things like silks and porcelain and precious, precious tea that Britannia craved. In return China wanted from Britannia… to be left alone and Britannia nobly agreed to respect China's independence and soverenty.



Nothing generates demand like addiction -- which Britannia was happy to supply. And, her bigger-gun diplomacy secured Hong Kong as a base through which the drugs must flow.

Later in a world where telegraphs and lightbulbs were newfangled a lease gave control of Hong Kong to Britannia for 99 years or quote "as good as forever", kicking the transfer problem down the generations to be delt with by the unimaginably futuristic society of the 1990s.

Thus these sister cities grow up under the influence of their Emperiffic parents. Hong Kong had English common law and lived in Britannia's org chart as one of her many crown colonies and Macau had Portuguese civil law.

And the parental effect is still seen today: visit Hong Kong and she is clearly Britannia's daughter what with her love of business and international finance (and lasers!) and english-accented language and near-identical transport system.

Macau had a more troubled adolescence, as her bigger sister stole the spotlight with her trading skills. But Macau eventually grew up to be the gambling capital of the world. She's Las Vegas x10 with a mixture of Portugal and China.

But Empires come and empires go, and the 90s eventually arrived, meaning Britannia's lease expired. Portugal claimed the treaty gave her control of Macau forever but China disagreed and the UN was in a no-empires-no-longer mood, and frankly had Portugal complained too much, China could have used her own bigger-army diplomacy at this point to resolve the situation.

So the transfer was going to happen: but the world was nervous about China, what with the lingering communism and all, so the deal was the Empire's daughters would go but they had to remain basically independent, to which China agreed as long as everyone else agreed to call them China.

The situation was a bit like if the US had to give Alaska back to Russia and Russia super promised to leave Alaska self-governing. You couldn't blame the locals for being nervous.

But, unlike what you'd expect in this case China has mostly left the little sister islands alone.

So everything is dandy...


The handover came with its own version of the as-good-as-forever clause. China didn't agree to leave Hong Kong and Macau alone for all time, only fifty years, again passing political problems to a future generation. (Hopefully one that's actually unimaginably futuristic this time).

Anyway, assuming such provincial concerns as these are not rendered irrelevant by the singularity, what happens in the 2040s? Will Hong Kong and Macau remain tiny city-states or will they lose their independence and be absorbed?

Only China knows, and China does not say.