China and Portugal on Monday signed a historic agreement that will end more than 400 years of Portuguese rule over the tiny gambling enclave of Macao--the oldest Western settlement in Asia.
The brief ceremony was conducted by Portuguese Prime Minister Anibal Cavaco Silva and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang in the vast Great Hall of the People as President Li Xiannian and China's top leader, Deng Xiaoping, looked on.
"From our point of view, we were very glad that Portugal accepted a rather easy process for the handing over of Macao to Chinese sovereignty," the 82-year-old Deng said during talks earlier Monday with the Portuguese leader.
Deng, who proposed the "one country, two systems" policy that is the basis of the Macao accord, told Cavaco Silva that China's liberal economic reforms and policy of opening to the outside world will remain unchanged for at least 70 years.
Under the agreement, China has promised that Macao may retain its capitalist system and life style for 50 years after Portugal relinquishes control on Dec. 20, 1999. Beijing made a similar pledge to Britain in a 1984 accord on the return of Hong Kong in 1997.
The Macao agreement, which was completed and initialed last month following nine months of negotiations, will end almost 450 years of Portuguese rule over the six-square-mile territory.