The special administrative regions (SAR) are one type of provincial-level administrative divisions of China directly under Central People's Government, which enjoys the highest degree of autonomy, and no or less interference by either Central Government or the Chinese Communist Party.
The legal basis for the establishment of SARs, unlike the administrative divisions of Mainland 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".
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, transferred to China in 1997 and 1999 pursuant to the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 and the Sino-Portuguese Joint Declaration of 1987 respectively. 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." There is additionally the Wolong Special Administrative Region in Sichuan province, which is however not established according to Article 31 of the Constitution. Generally, two SARs does not constitute the part of Mainland China by both Chinese and SAR 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. 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.
Under the One China, Two Systems principle, the two SARs continue to possess their own governments, multi-party legislatures, legal systems, police forces, monetary systems, separate customs territory, immigration policies, national sports teams, official languages, postal systems, academic and educational systems, and substantial competence in external relations that are different or independent from the People's Republic of China.
Special administrative regions should be distinguished from the constituent countries system in the United Kingdom or Kingdom of the Netherlands.
There are currently two special administrative regions established according to Article 31 of the Chinese Constitution. For the Wolong Special Administrative Region in Sichuan province, please see the section below.
The two special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau (created in 1997 and 1999 respectively) each have a codified constitution called Basic Law. The law provides the regions with a high degree of autonomy, a separate political system, and a capitalist economy under the principle of "one country, two systems" proposed by Deng Xiaoping.
Currently, the two SARs of Hong Kong and Macau are responsible for all affairs except those regarding diplomatic relations and national defense. Consequently, the National People's Congress authorizes the SAR to exercise a high degree of autonomy and enjoy executive, legislative and independent judicial power, and each with their own Courts of Final Appeal.
Special administrative regions are empowered to contract a wide range of agreements with other countries and territories such as mutual abolition of visa requirement, mutual legal aid, air services, extradition, handling of double taxation and others, with no Chinese Government involvement. However in some diplomatic talks involving a SAR, the SAR concerned may choose to send officials to be part of the Chinese delegation. For example, Margaret Chan, the current World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General and former Director of Health in Hong Kong, served as one of delegates from the People's Republic of China to the WHO.
In sporting events the SARs participate under the respective names of "Hong Kong, China" and "Macau, China", and compete as different entities as they had done since they were under foreign rules, but both SARs are usually allowed to omit the term ", China" for informal use.
The Government of Hong Kong has established Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices (HKETOs) in few countries as well as Greater China Region. HKETOs serve as a quasi-interests section in favor of Hong Kong. For regions with no HKETOs, Chinese diplomatic missions take charge of protecting Hong Kong-related interest.
Some countries which have a diplomatic relation with central Chinese government maintain Consulate-General in Hong Kong.
The People's Liberation Army is garrisoned in both SARs. PRC authorities have said the PLA will not be allowed to interfere with the local affairs of Hong Kong and Macau, and must abide by its laws. In 1988, scholar Chen Fang of the Academy of Military Science even tried to propose the "One military, two systems" concept to separate the defence function and public functions in the army. The PLA does not participate in the governance of the SAR but the SAR may request them for civil-military participation, in times of emergency such as natural disasters. Defence is the responsibility of the PRC government.
A 1996 draft PRC law banned People's Liberation Army-run businesses in HK, but loopholes allow them to operate while the profits are ploughed back into the military. There are many PLA-run corporations in Hong Kong. The PLA also have sizable land-holdings in Hong Kong worth billions of dollars.
Each of the SARs issues passports on its own to its permanent residents who are concurrently Chinese (PRC) citizens. PRC citizens must also satisfy one of the following conditions:born in the SAR;
born anywhere while either parent was a permanent resident of the SAR;
resided continuously and legally for seven or more years in the SAR and therefore gained a right of abode in the SAR.
Apart from affording the holder consular protection by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China, these passports also specify that the holder has right of abode in the issuing SAR.
The National People's Congress has also put each SAR in charge of administering the PRC's Nationality Law in its respective realms, namely naturalization, renunciation and restoration of PRC nationality and issuance of proof of nationality.
Due to their colonial past, many inhabitants of the SARs hold some form of non-Chinese nationality (e.g. British National (Overseas) status, British citizenship, British Overseas citizenship or Portuguese citizenship). However, SAR residents who are Chinese descent have always been considered as Chinese citizens by the PRC authorities. Special interpretation of the Nationality Law, while not recognizing dual nationality, has allowed Chinese citizens to keep their foreign "right of abode" and use travel documents issued by the foreign country. However, such travel documents cannot be used to travel to mainland China and persons concerned must use Home Return Permit. Therefore, master nationality rule applies so the holder may not enjoy consular protection while in mainland China. Chinese citizens who also have foreign citizenship may declare a change of nationality at the Immigration Department of the respective SARs, and upon approval, would no longer be considered Chinese citizens.
SAR permanent residents who are not Chinese citizens (including stateless persons) are not eligible for SAR passports and must obtain passports from foreign diplomatic missions which represents their countries of citizenship.
For Chinese citizens who are non-permanent residents of two SARs, each SAR may issue its own form of certificates of identity, e.g. Document of Identity for HKSAR non-permanent residents, in lieu of national passports to the persons concerned.
The status of a special administrative region for Taiwan and other areas controlled by the Republic of China was first proposed in 1981. The 1981 proposal was put forth by Ye Jianying called "Ye's nine points" (葉九條). A series of different offers have since appeared. On 25 June 1983 Deng Xiaoping appeared at Seton Hall University in the US to propose "Deng's six points" (鄧六條), which called for a "Taiwan Special Administrative Region" (台灣特別行政區). It was envisioned that after Taiwan's unification with the PRC as an SAR, the PRC would become the sole representative of China. Under this proposal, Taiwan would be guaranteed its own military, its own administrative and legislative powers, an independent judiciary and the right of adjudication, although it would not be considered a separate government of China.
In 2005 the Anti-Secession Law of the PRC was enacted. It promises the lands currently ruled by the authorities of Taiwan a high degree of autonomy, among other things. The PRC can also employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to defend its claims to sovereignty over the ROC's territories in the event of an outright declaration of independence by Taiwan (ROC).
The Wolong Special Administrative Region (Chinese: 卧龙特别行政区; pinyin: Wòlóng Tèbié Xíngzhèngqū) is located in the southwest of Wenchuan County, Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan. It was formerly known as Wolong Special Administrative Region of Wenchuan County, Sichuan Province and was founded in March 1983 with approval of the State Council. It was given its current name and placed under Sichuan provincial government with administrative supervision by the provincial department of forestry. Its area supersedes Sichuan Wolong National Nature Reserve and its administrative office is the same as the Administrative Bureau of the State Forestry Administration for the reserve. It currently has a population of 5343.
Despite its name, the Wolong Special Administrative Region is not an SAR as defined by Article 31 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China; as a result, it has been proposed the Wenchuan Wolong Special Administrative Region of Sichuan Province change its name, with designations such as special area or township.
In the Republic of China (ROC) when it governed Mainland China, "special administrative regions" (Chinese: 特別行政區; pinyin: tèbié xíngzhèngqū) were historically used to designate special areas, most of which were eventually converted into provinces. All were suspended or abolished after the end of the Chinese Civil War, with the establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the ROC government's retreat to Taiwan. The regions were:
Chahar was made a special administrative region in 1914 by the Republic of China, as a subdivision of the then Zhili Province, with 6 banners and 11 counties. In 1928 it became a province, with 5 of its counties partitioned to Suiyuan, and 10 counties were included from Hebei.