Macau is an extraordinary country located in the Far East. You may have never even heard of it. However, it is a rich country and its GDP per capita is higher than in any other country in the world.
This also makes Macau the richest country in the world. The inhabitants are not only richer than most people but also healthier because they tend to live much longer than elsewhere.
Where is the island of Macau located?
Macau is a small but densely populated island where few children are born. A quarter of the working population is made up of immigrants from China. And if you had to guess what language is spoken there you would immediately fail… Portuguese is the official language. All very strange of course but there is a reason why this peninsula is flourishing. It is a special region that administratively belongs to China, and the island played a particularly important role in colonial times. It is so close to China that you can almost see Hong Kong. The reason Portuguese is spoken there is very simple: it is a former colony of this country.
History of the island
Macau is part of a larger peninsula with a Chinese river running along it on either side. It shares a very small land border with China but most of it is bordered by the coast. It is close to Hong Kong. According to scientists, people have lived on the peninsula for more than 7,000 years. When the Mongols invaded China in the 13th century, many Chinese fled to the island and remained there. A century later, fishermen, religious people and trade began. The strategic location of the island made it possible to trade well with Southeast Asia.
The 16th century
In the early 16th century, the explorer Jorge Alvare sailed east at the behest of the Portuguese crown in search of trade routes. He was the first European to set foot there. The Portuguese encountered a seemingly deserted island that they claimed for Portugal, just missing the original population that was there. The encounter with the Chinese was followed by a short-lived war that was ended by an agreement. The Portuguese were allowed to stay but only near the waters surrounding the island. Building was not allowed, nor was permanent residence.
Portuguese received all rights
In 1553, they were finally allowed to do so. The Portuguese were smart enough to understand that the island was favorable for trade and bought the exclusive rights to it for a paltry sum. They paid interest for three hundred years to be able to keep this right. Both the Chinese and the Portuguese benefited because they had all the rights to trade and Portugal the only one to trade with Southern China.
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The 17th Century
Early in the 17th century, Macau had become a sort of gateway to Asia like there was not one in the entire region. A foreign language was spoken, the food, customs and beliefs were very different from those in neighboring countries. However, problems arose because some of the indigenous people were used as slaves. Many who did get paid also had barely enough to live on so disparities were great.
Conflicts with the Dutch
In addition to the Portuguese, the Dutch were also quite active in Asia trading. They even sent an army to take Macau from the Portuguese but the slaves fought back bravely so this did not succeed and both Portugal and China had to recognize Macau as an independent country. A real agreement was not reached for another two hundred years.
Opium war brings prosperity in 19th century
During the first Opium War the Chinese troops and government were so weakened that they gave Portugal control of Macau. This happened in 1887. Oddly enough, this only brought the countries closer together because the demand for opium was so great worldwide. Opium was smuggled from India through Macau and continued to be smuggled for half a century. China and Portugal worked together to maximize their own profits.
After the Second World War
After the end of WWII, Macau took on an even more important role. They had remained neutral all that time and had taken in numerous refugees. The island was safe but also played a major role in world trade. After the Chinese Revolution China wanted to annex the island, but this was met with great protest from the Portuguese, during which the necessary violence was used, but the conflict did not escalate. In 1974, however, it ended in the so-called Carnation Revolution. Portugal was no longer the occupier and the Revolution was a true military coup. Minimal violence was used but the consequences were all the greater.
Self-responsibility and independence
Because the influence of the Portuguese was no longer there and the three-hundred year contract had ended, the people of Macau took control of their own affairs. Administrative, economic and political power became their own. Macau became Chinese territory under a temporary Portuguese administration in 1980. This temporary aspect led to the peninsula becoming fully independent in 1999.
This independence means that Macau itself is responsible for politics, legislation, the legal system, the police, all financial matters, the postal service and education. For this there is no longer any interference from outside, neither from Portugal nor from China. Although I’m sure the Chinese would like that.
But why did Macau become such a gambling paradise now you may still be wondering? In 2002, the government of Macau decided to dissolve the monopoly the state had on gambling until then. They issued permits for the construction of six new casinos, including to the well-known MGM Mirage, Wynn Resorts, Las Vegas Sands and Galaxy Entertainment Group. These are not exactly little guys when it comes to gambling and they truly built mega resorts that made Macau the gambling mecca of Southeast Asia in one fell swoop.
Development of the Cotai Strip
For this gambling paradise, the Cotai Strip was developed using The Strip in Las Vegas as an example. People wanted to follow this example and then make it even bigger. Starting in 2007, resorts were built on the Cotai Strip and billions were pumped in to make it all happen. There was a new tax law which resulted in even more permits being issued and with it the unemployment rate on the island fell to below 1% of the workforce. In addition to the resorts, many apartments and houses were built for workers in the tourism industry in Macau.
Problems caused by the recession
Due to a global recession, 2007 and 2008 were not exactly the best years for Macau but a lot of money continued to be poured into the development of new projects. Tourism is still not optimal so there are more problems on the island itself. A large part of the population is not very well off but supports the rich inhabitants, which of course are much fewer. The differences between rich and poor are also increasing and problems arise because people have no roof over their heads, nor an income. Sometimes immigrants are brought in to do the work of the locals (they are cheaper) and this meets with considerable resistance from the local population.
Economy and tourism pick up again
Since 2014, the economy has been picking up and tourism is also improving. This also means good news for Macau. If the economy picks up, the same goes for Macau. Although the corona crisis of 2020 will also throw a spanner in the works, the consequences of which are not yet fully clear at the time of writing. The language spoken there is also a subject of discussion. The people who speak Chinese as their mother tongue want Portuguese to be removed as an official language. Conversely, of course, the people who speak Portuguese do not want it to be abolished as an official language.