Twenty years after the handover of Macau from Portugal to China, the territory is playing a "complementary role" in the relationship between China and Portuguese-language countries, helping to knit together the Portuguese-speaking world, according to a researcher at the main research unit of China"s central government
Zhou Zhiwei of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, which reports to the State Council, told Lusa that Macau - through the Forum Macao - today plays a "complementary role" to cooperation mechanisms between China and Portuguese-language countries.
"Macau is an additional platform for cooperation between China and Portuguese-language countries and is a very important window to the outside world, through cultural and economic ties" with the Portuguese speakers, he told Lusa.
The Forum Macao, which was set up in 2003 by China"s government, has a permanent secretariat and holds ministerial-level meetings every three years. As well as its secretary-general, Xu Yingzhen, it has three deputy secretaries-general, eight delegates from Portuguese-language countries (Angola, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe and East Timor).
China is involved in several other multilateral forums such as the BRICs bloc for major emerging economies, which also includes Brazil, and the China-Africa Cooperation Forum, which encompasses all Portuguese-language countries in Africa (known in Portuguese as PALOPs).
However, Zhou singled out Macau as a "particular channel" for products from Portuguese-language countries to access the Chinese market, including through trade fairs, in the training of human resources or in cooperation initiatives in the form of projects that have included the introduction of hybrid rice in Timor and the use of traditional Chinese medicine in the PALOPs.
The academic also stressed the creation by China, within the framework of the Forum Macao, of a development cooperation fund between China and Portuguese-language countries with $1 billion (€879 billion) in funds, managed by the state China Development Bank (CBD).
In 2017, trade between China and Portuguese-language countries stood at $147.354 billion, up more than 25% on the previous year.
Nevertheless, diplomats and business groups have often expressed the view that the Forum Macao has not achieved its potential.
Gao Zhikai, who served as an interpreter for former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and who is currently one of the best-known commentators on Chinese television, also praised the role of the Macau Special Administrative Region as an important element in building links with the Portuguese-speaking world.
He rejected any idea of establishing a platform equivalent to the British Commonwealth, but stressed the importance of the "centuries-old bond" between Portugal and Macau, and the fact that China, of which the latter now forms a part, "is probably the largest trading partner in all the countries that speak Portuguese, with the exception of Portugal.
"I think Portugal should be satisfied with the integrating role undertaken by Macau and China, as it is a job it could not undertake, not least because it does not have the financial resources for it," he added.
Reminders of the Portuguese presence in Macau include, among others, colonial buildings, Portuguese-style paving and ceramic tiles, but also immaterial heritage such as the Portuguese language, which remains official in public services and the law, which is along Portuguese lines.
Gao said that China sees the maintenance of this heritage as "positive" - contrasting this with India's policy in Goa, "where Portuguese influence was eliminated after integration" of that former Portuguese colony into the Indian confederation.
"China and its people have no problem maintaining Portuguese heritage in Macao," he said.