The new Portuguese consul in Macau and Hong Kong argues that Macanese and Chinese people with Portuguese citizenship play an important role. Paulo Cunha Alves does not fear the city's integration into the mainland and sees the Greater Bay Area project as an opportunity for the Portuguese community and culture to assert themselves. The Portuguese language, he says, may be the lifeblood of Macau's business.
- You mentioned that your primary goal is to "protect the rights and interests of the Portuguese community in the MSAR." What rights and interests do you have in mind?
Paulo Cunha Alves - All. Human rights are generic - civil, political, social, economic. In this context, I meant the rights Portuguese citizens are entitled to.
- But that goes without saying...
PCA - One of the main duties of the Portuguese State is to protect Portuguese citizens abroad. The statement was made from this perspective. Nothing was being implied.
- Was it aimed at Macau?
PCA - No.
- What are the challenges here?
PCA - Keeping an identity of its own, strengthening and deepening the Portuguese language by taking advantage of the fact that Macau is a platform between China, Portugal and other Portuguese-speaking territories, and continuing to defend the economic interests and civil rights of the Portuguese community.
- When you arrived, you promised to hold regular meetings with Portuguese-related associations. Have any meetings taken place yet?
PCA - No formal meetings yet. We will have a meeting on the 28th, to which all Portuguese-related associations have been invited.
- You have praised the work of your predecessor, but said that there is room for improvement. Can you be more specific?
PCA -There's always room for improvement. Otherwise, what would we be doing here?
- The statement suggests that you took stock of the work that has been done and identified areas in which there would be room for improvement.
PCA - It has to do with improving our bureaucratic service and reducing waiting times. Our overall goal in any consulate is to help the community feel closer to their country, with no reason to complain.
- How would you describe the evolution of the Portuguese community in terms of representativeness?
PCA - Our estimates suggest that there are 6,000 to 7,000 Portuguese citizens living in Macau. Then we have more comprehensive figures, which involve the holders of Portuguese passports and encompass the two regions, Macau and Hong Kong. In this case, our estimate falls between 165,000 and 170,000. It's always difficult to be more precise because the number of consular registrations is never up to date, as people keep moving from place to place.
- Has it been growing?
PCA - From what I know informally, I would say that - as with other destinations - there was an increase in emigration to Macau after 2008, as a result of the international economic crisis and the fact that people were having difficulty finding jobs. And I would say that it has stagnated over the past two years.
- What role does the community play in Macau today?
PCA - The expatriate community is not numerous, but I must make a caveat: Portuguese people can't be expatriates only. Besides the Chinese and expat communities, there is the Macanese community, which is very numerous. Everyone has a contribution to make.
- What contribution is that?
PCA - The main thing now is the focus on multiculturalism and identity. It is from this perspective that Macau plays a special role in the country and in Asia. What happens in this city is different from what happens in Shanghai, Guangzhou, or Beijing. It's a unique example. It is important for the development of the MSAR to consider the contribution of the Portuguese community, whether in the narrower or broader sense. We must consider everyone's contribution, and Macanese society - the result of the fusion between China and Portugal, East and West - has a very important and unique contribution to make. Portuguese influence is more evident in Macau than British influence in Hong Kong.
- What makes you say that?
PCA -I barely knew Hong Kong and Macau before coming here, but after a vacation there and three and a half months here, there is no comparison between the two. Maybe because of the size. It's a smaller place and, as such, more permeable to external factors, including different communities. The strength of the Filipino community was a surprise. Macau will become a multicultural city and will always need its different communities, such as the Filipino community, which is making a very important contribution to the city's economic development.
- What is the contribution of the Portuguese community?
PCA - There's the cultural and linguistic contribution, and there's also the legal aspect, as there are still many Portuguese advisers and judges. In fact, there are many lawyers, so I think they are still in high demand, and they will continue to be so at least until 2049, because they provide the interpretation of the Basic Law and of the legal system which should be in force during the 50 years of the transition. After that, I don't know.
- Given the city's integration into the mainland, do you believe that the prominent role, benefits and contribution of Portugal and the Portuguese people in Macau will vanish?
PCA - On the contrary. I have an optimistic perspective. I think that opportunities arise especially when challenges emerge. In the context of the challenge of creating the Greater Bay Area, I think that the Portuguese community may expand its scope of intervention beyond Macau and make its contribution to the surrounding cities.
PCA - We don't have a large Portuguese community in the other cities of the region but economic interests are beginning to emerge, and that's why we have opened a new consulate in Guangzhou last year. This will in itself attract people and contribute to a stronger relationship between Macau and Guangzhou, involving companies, law firms, and other interests. And I could mention the language issue again. There is a lot of interest in China, as the number of Portuguese courses in Chinese universities shows. Obviously, because of geographical proximity, cities around Macau, in Guangdong Province, will be very interested in training staff who can also speak the language, so that they can do business with the Portuguese-speaking world.
- And what role will Macau have?
PCA - It is Macau that offers this platform of contacts with the whole Portuguese-speaking world, and I think this will grow even more. And I say this because more Portuguese courses can be created, or maybe a university focusing on language matters. And if it happens, it should be here. In the future, I think that people from the Greater Bay Area will come to Macau to study Portuguese. And this will be an important contribution to the language and to the economic value of Portuguese, which is increasingly sought throughout the world.
- You were talking about the presence of advisors and the legal community in the MSAR. What do you think of the dismissal of the two Portuguese advisors from the Assembly, Paulo Taipa and Paulo Cardinal?
PCA - I think it's an administrative decision by the Macau Legislative Assembly. It's an issue on which the Portuguese State shouldn't comment because it goes beyond our remit. The two advisors were on a temporary assignment, that's what the appointment decree said. And 'temporary' it is not 'forever'. They were serving the MSAR Assembly. When the authorities decided they should not extend the assignment, it was their decision. We have no further comments to make. We must respect the decision that has been made by the local authorities, just as we like other countries to respect the decisions we make in Lisbon.
- Many Portuguese judges are approaching the end of their terms or retirement age, which means that the community's representation in the judiciary will decrease.
PCA - Again, it's a decision that falls within the competence of MSAR authorities. We have to respect it, and the only thing we can do is provide new suitable names, if requested. I have no further comments to make.
- What role does the consulate play with regard to the community that has Portuguese citizenship but was not born in Portugal?
PCA - We do not discriminate people based on the fact that they are Portuguese, Macanese or Chinese. Obviously, our attention varies according to the interest Portugal arouses in those communities. I would say that the Portuguese community requires much more attention than the Chinese community.
- Do you have an idea of the profile of the Chinese community with a Portuguese passport?
PCA I can't really say, but I think the figures are basically static. My guess, as a matter of common sense, is that the number of Chinese nationals applying for Portuguese citizenship has not grown in recent years. There is no big wave of Macau-born Chinese citizens applying for Portuguese citizenship in order to work or start a business in Portugal.
- When President Xi Jinping visited in Portugal, the country became a partner in the 'One Belt, One Route' initiative. What role can Macau play here?
PCA - Macau always plays a role, no matter what the topic may be, because it was through Macau that our relationship with China began and grew. I think that China itself will benefit from paying attention to the local government's ideas for developing its relationship with Portugal. It involves land and sea connections, and one of the main concerns of the Portuguese government is to establish a connection between China and Europe through Sines Port. Macau will always play a role because this will involve entrepreneurs, managers and lawyers on both sides of the negotiation processes.
- And how can Portugal benefit from joining the Chinese initiative?
PCA - The virtue of the 'One Belt, One Route' initiative is that it will make it possible to strengthen the close relationship that already exists between Portugal and China by expanding it from the point of view of economic relations and human contact. When we talk of economic investment, we must also talk about the movement of communities from one country to the other, of tourism, because they will certainly grow, and those human flows will help strengthen the bilateral relationship. Portugal can use it to its advantage in several areas - the economy, trade, business, tourism, language.
PCA - We will certainly benefit from greater facilities for learning Chinese in Portugal, and we also want more Portuguese courses in Macau and mainland China. Diplomatic relations are not static. We cannot segregate political, economic and cultural relations. It is all interconnected, and when a protocol is signed in a specific area, there are other areas to be considered which will also benefit from it.
- You said that interests must be articulated. There is the notion that economic interests outweigh all others, especially since the crisis hit Portugal.
PCA - Other member states have a close relationship with China, but none like ours. By joining the 'One Belt, One Route' initiative, the Portuguese Government is making a specific contribution to the European Union. It is using its EU member state status to assert the principles governing the EU and the international community in its relationship with China. We can't see this as a relationship solely between Portugal and China.
- Can you elaborate on that?
PCA - Portugal comes to the negotiations with China through a bilateral relationship, but also with the status of an EU member state, the status of a country that knows the African continent very well, which has a special and close relationship with the whole Latin American continent, and it is from this perspective that diplomatic relations should be understood. Each country has its own contribution, and as long as we can assert and respect EU principles, I don't see any ambivalence or antagonism in our strategy.
- And how can economic interests be reconciled with values championed by Portugal as a democratic and constitutional state - values which are not always valid in China, a country often accused of violating human rights?
PCA - The most important thing is knowing what goals and principles we should stand for. And then we have to present them and adapt them to the other party. There is no exact formula for international relations. We won't be less genuine, we won't desecrate our principles and rules if we adapt our speech and try to find a balance. All this is part of the so-called 'realpolitik'. We must define our national interests and protect them in our relationship with other states.
- This is Portugal's year in China, celebrating the 40th anniversary since the resumption of bilateral relations and the 20th since the establishment of the MSAR. Which plans are being made on the Portuguese side?
PCA - We want a more intense program, especially regarding culture and the Portuguese language. We are trying to integrate theater-related initiatives involving schools, something related to music. We are still holding meetings and the program is not closed yet. The Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture has asked us to take part in the 'Macau Culture' initiative, a festival they are planning to hold this year. The idea is to make Macau some sort of Asian cultural capital, from April to June.
- Any ideas, names?
PCA - I don't have any names yet. It's still tentative, but the areas are language, theater, painting. We will have initiatives such as an exhibition focusing on Portuguese architects, an artistic residency of sorts, and a Portuguese film festival, probably one week long, which may have a partnership with the 'Indie Lisboa' film festival. We are thinking of a ballet show involving the Art Institute, which is the organization behind the New York Short Film Festival. We are also trying to bring Portuguese artists and celebrate others who have passed away.
- Can you mention any names?
PCA - One of the ideas under discussion is a celebration of the anniversary of Zeca Afonso's birth. We're also trying to plan a music show. There are several names I will not mention here because I don't want to create false expectations. A theater show for children, a Portuguese writer who may come for several talks. Maybe we will invite an entertainer. There's also the idea of holding a fine arts exhibition. But these ideas need to be worked out and confirmed by the relevant organizations, both here and in Portugal.
- Do you plan to continue 'June as the month of Portugal', an initiative created by the previous consul?
PCA - It's an excellent initiative. I think it is a way of drawing attention to Portuguese culture, language, and presence. The only caveat I need to make - from my previous experience in other places, as when we had a four-week Portuguese festival in Boston - is that we will do things right We will not be megalomaniacs. I'm a fan of 'small is beautiful'.
- There have been some complaints from staff working at the Consulate, about wages and other things. How will you address these complaints?
PCA - I have heard comments and concerns, bordering on anguish, about the salary scale. Unfortunately, this is not the only case. These problems exist in many other places. And due to budget constraints and the fact that we can't raise wages, we have unfortunately lost a lot of staff over the years, especially in the past five years. Lisbon has been informed about these concerns. The solution is not easy. It requires higher budget availability, which depends on the Government.
- Are there prospects of wage increases and hirings?
PCA - I do not know. It is being studied in Lisbon. In the case of this consular post, we have asked for permission to hire one or two people. But my main concern right now is to replace those who have left in 2018 and those who will reach the age limit this year.
- How many people work in the Consulate, and how many have you lost over the past few years?
PCA - There are about 30 employees. My predecessor told me we had lost about 10. But they have been replaced since then. I think we may have lost five or six officials since 2013.
- Macau is announced as a platform between China and Portuguese-speaking countries. Is it perceived that way?
PCA - That importance is real, but we need to send the message across more clearly. And that will be one of my tasks - to make people in Portugal understand the specificity of Macau in the Chinese context so as to bring the two countries closer together and advance the role of Portugal as a facilitator in China's relations with Africa and other territories. It's a process. It does not happen overnight. We have the Macau Forum, for which we have appointed an exclusive delegate. Given this combination of situations, this is the right moment to promote Macau's role.
- Can language ties between Macau and Portugal really matter, given the investment made by the mainland?
PCA I think so. It is part of Chinese and MSAR plans to diversify Macau's economic and business fabric. Given the economic value of the Portuguese language, it can be a way of contributing to the diversification of the local economy. I will give you an example. Higher education in Australia is the second source of income for the country because it hosts thousands of foreign students. Of course it's a whole different scale, but education can become the seed of a new industry.
- Some people argue that Beijing has done much more for the preservation of the Portuguese language than Portugal.
PCA - I agree, considering the scale of the countries. China is a bigger player, boasts an immeasurable economic capacity, and can do more than Portugal. But they have different roles. We can certainly collaborate. The specificity of Macau as a platform will be born from this joint effort.