Special administrative regions of China

The special administrative regions (SAR) of the People's Republic of China are one type of provincial-level administrative divisions of the People's Republic of China directly under Central People's Government. As a region, they possess the highest degree of autonomy in China. Despite the relative autonomy that the Central People's Government affords special administrative regions, the National People's Congress is still able to unilaterally write laws in secret for special administrative regions that are not read publicly until they are passed.[3]

Special Administrative Regions of the People’s Republic of China

Regional flags of Hong Kong and of Macau
Largest SAR/cityHong Kong
Official languagesChinese (both)
English (Hong Kong)
Portuguese (Macau)
Official scriptTraditional Chinese, Latin script
Demonym(s)Hongkonger, Hong Kongese (Hong Kong)
Macau (Macau)
Special Administrative Regions
GovernmentOne country, two systems
Xi Jinping
Li Keqiang
Li Zhanshu
Han Zheng
Carrie Lam
Ho Iat Seng
1,135.7 km2 (438.5 sq mi)
 2014[lower-alpha 1] estimate
6,920/km2 (17,922.7/sq mi)
CurrencyHong Kong dollar (both)
Macanese pataca (Macau)
Date format
  • yyyymd
  • or yyyy-mm-dd
  • or dd/mm/yyyy
  • (CE; CE-1949)
  1. Second quarter
Special Administrative Region(s) of the People's Republic of China
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese中華人民共和國特別行政區
Simplified Chinese中华人民共和国特别行政区
Cantonese YaleJūng'wàh Yàhnmàhn Guhng'wòhgwok Dahkbiht Hàngjingkēui
Portuguese name
PortugueseRegiões Administrativas Especiais da República Popular da China
pronounced [ʁɨʒiˈõɨʃ ɐdminiʃtɾɐˈtivɐʃ (ɨ)ʃpɨsiˈaiʃ]

The legal basis for the establishment of SARs, unlike the other administrative divisions of China, is provided for by Article 31, rather than Article 30, of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China of 1982. Article 31 reads: "The state may establish special administrative regions when necessary. The systems to be instituted in special administrative regions shall be prescribed by law enacted by the National People's Congress in the light of the specific conditions".[4][5][6][7]

At present, there are two SARs established according to the Constitution, namely the Hong Kong SAR and the Macau SAR, former British and Portuguese dependencies, respectively,[8] transferred to China in 1997 and 1999, respectively, pursuant to the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 and the Sino-Portuguese Joint Declaration of 1987. Pursuant to their Joint Declarations, which are binding inter-state treaties registered with the United Nations, and their Basic laws, the Chinese SARs "shall enjoy a high degree of autonomy".[9] Generally, the two SARs are not considered to constitute a part of Mainland China, by both SAR and mainland Chinese authorities.

The provision to establish special administrative regions appeared in the constitution in 1982, in anticipation of the talks with the United Kingdom over the question of the sovereignty over Hong Kong. It was envisioned as the model for the eventual reunification with Taiwan and other islands, where the Republic of China has resided since 1949.

Under the one country, two systems principle, the Central Government is responsible for the diplomatic, military and other state-level affairs of the two SARs. But two SARs continue to possess their own multi-party legislatures, legal systems, police forces, separate customs territory, immigration policies, left-hand traffic,[10] official languages, academic and educational systems, representation on certain international bodies and representation in international competitions, and other aspects that falls within the autonomous level.

Special administrative regions should not be confused with special economic zones, which are areas in which special economic laws apply to promote trade and investments. The Wolong Special Administrative Region in Sichuan province is a nature preserve not a political division.