Macau, a part of Chinese territory for centuries, first developed as a major settlement in the 16th century, after the Portuguese established a trading post on the site in 1556. Portuguese colonialism in Macau had two main objectives: to develop economic and trade links with China and other Asian states, including Japan, and to spread Roman Catholicism, mainly through the efforts of Jesuit priests. However, because of the great size and power of the Asian states, the Portuguese had only limited success with both of these objectives. China permitted only limited economic access, and attempts to convert people to Catholicism were halted at times. Moreover, the Portuguese were competing with more aggressive European powers, such as Britain, and this limited Portugalís scope and success internationally.
Colonial activity and control in Macau reached their height in the early 17th century, but stagnated thereafter. In dealing with China, Portugal resorted to negotiation rather than military confrontation, in contrast to Britain, which obtained trading privileges in China through force in the Opium Wars (1839-1842, 1856-1860). Britain also forced China to cede control of the territory of Hong Kong, which eventually eclipsed Macau as the regionís most important port. In 1974 a military coup in Portugal brought to power a socialist government, which was sympathetic to independence movements in the countryís overseas territories. Although there was no strong movement for independence in Macau, Portugal approached China about Macauís future. In 1987 Portugal and China reached an agreement by which Macau would be returned to China in 1999.
In 1993 China passed a Basic Law for Macau that provided for the operation of Macau as a Special Administrative Region of China after the transfer to Chinese rule in 1999. The law, which was approved by Portugal, allows Macau to maintain a capitalist economy and a high degree of autonomy for a period of 50 years after 1999. The Basic Law also provides for a judicial system that maintains the rule of law as a principle for operating a civil society and market economy.
In contrast to the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, most residents of Macau supported reunification with China. Many Macau residents expressed hope that the Chinese administration would help end a violent gang war that has wracked Macau in recent years. The return of Macau to China proceeded smoothly on December 20, 1999, bringing to an end nearly 500 years of European colonial and territorial involvement and control in Asia.