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Redesigning the China-Lusophone relationship in a world with new challenges

Guilherme Rego

Academics from the Sinolusophone world gathered at the “Forum of Think Tanks between China and Portuguese-speaking Countries”, in Macau, to discuss the development and global security agenda. In a context of geopolitical instability and economic recession, the challenges, opportunities and role of Macau in building the bridge between Lusophony and the Asian giant were discussed.

The event was opened by Liu Xianfa, Commissioner of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Macau, who expressed confidence in the development of cooperation between Portuguese-speaking Countries (PLP) and China. In a challenging geopolitical and health environment, in which “unprecedented changes” and “crises of various dimensions” are faced, Liu believes that cooperation can be based on the common desire for “peace and security”.

On the other hand, he shared what he considers to be China’s “successes” in the social, energy and economic areas. “China did in two decades what other developed countries took 100 years to do. [This accelerated development] is a good example that other countries can follow,” he pointed out.

Finally, he listed the achievements of this relationship in recent years, such as the increase in exports and imports between peoples, student exchanges, the dissemination of Confucius institutes and the strengthening of the network of twinned cities.

“China’s doors are not going to close, quite the opposite. They will be more and more open,” he predicted.

Next, it was the turn of the Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Ao Ieong U.

Between the diffusion of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the cooperation that “Macau has promoted” between China and the PLP, he highlighted “the leading role” of the city “in the teaching of the Portuguese language in Greater Bay.


“For historical reasons, Portuguese-speaking countries share the same language and special relationships with each other. Both China and these countries are developing and facing both opportunities and challenges. These countries complement each other and, in recent years, bilateral trade has reached all-time highs,” commented Yu Xingming, from the Chinese Academy of International Trade at the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.

Tom Dwyer, director of the CASS-UNICAMP Center for China Studies, also analyzed a study that involved hundreds of researchers who sought to understand the concerns linking young people in China and Brazil. Environmental protection, sustainable development and lack of opportunities, for example, were common points. In this sense, he suggests that there is “collaboration at the institutional level” to find solutions.


From another perspective, Yu Xingming showed that the relationship between China and Lusophony “goes beyond a bilateral relationship”. “It is already tripartite”, he maintained, noting that it involves three continents: Europe, Africa and America. And this cooperation has made it possible to “enter third-party markets”, giving the example of China Three Gorges and EDP, which are already in other countries outside the Portuguese-speaking sphere developing sustainable energy projects.

“Portugal is extremely important for relations with Europe, especially in the complex international context. It is a market of only 10 million, but it opens the door to the rest of the continent”, defended Zhang Min, a researcher at the Institute of European Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


At the event, one of the most debated ideas was that of security, being “a prerequisite for development, prosperity and stability”, believes Yu Xingming. Osvaldo Mboco, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the Technical University of Angola – UTANGA, said that the most important thing is to define “what kind of security should be established”, as the challenges of Lusophone Africa are different.

The academic pointed out that Cape Verde is politically stable, but lacks “a thriving economy”; Guinea-Bissau is experiencing “political instability”; Mozambique deals with the “terrorist threat in Cabo Delgado”, which has already postponed the continent’s largest liquefied natural gas project and, finally, the economic recession that has been in force since 2014 in Angola has brought food insecurity to the country.

“Without peace or security, it is difficult for countries to achieve development”, he emphasized, defending that this problem “must be resolved” to strengthen cooperation.

Another highlight of his intervention was the issue of African debt to China. Despite saying that “it has greatly facilitated the development of Angola”, he considers it important to “reconfigure this relationship”.

“It is necessary for the manufacturing units to be transferred to Angola to create more jobs and to transfer know-how”. Despite this correction, he also attributes responsibilities to his country, which he says has to create this incentive “by improving the business environment”.

Judite Nascimento, an academic at the University of Cape Verde, also praised Chinese investment in infrastructure in her country, which has been “strategically directed towards education, culture” and is now also beginning to flow into health.


The interventions naturally turned to the Macau Forum, created in 2003 at the initiative of China and with the aim of consolidating economic and commercial exchanges between China and Portuguese-speaking countries and boosting Macau’s role as a cooperation platform.

“It is not immediately noticeable” the efforts of the Forum, said the deputy secretary general of the institution, Paulo do Espírito Santo. Therefore, he says that “more robust initiatives should be taken that allow companies to take advantage of the platform, as well as streamline processes”. The former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guinea-Bissau did not fail to highlight the unique character of this institution:

“China has defined a distinct strategy with Portuguese-speaking countries when looking for an institutional platform for relations”.

“The recent external evaluation concludes that the Forum has opened a new model of cooperation and that Macau has fulfilled its role as a platform”, reinforced José Sales Marques, president of the Macau Institute of European Studies.

Even so, “the Forum is still below its potential”, attests Evandro Menezes de Carvalho, director of the Center for Studies on Affairs between Brazil and China at the Gertúlio Vargas Foundation, calling for a review of the credit lines of the Cooperation Fund and Development China-Portuguese Speaking Countries.

Despite the statement, he did not fail to highlight some of the achievements made by the Forum, such as ministerial meetings, the increase in Portuguese-speaking interest in Chinese financial products, among others.


Since 2020, Macau has adopted mainland China’s zero-case policy to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. As such, its role as a bridge between China and the PLP has been affected, although it is now witnessing a gradual reopening with the world. Since 1 September, citizens from more than 40 countries have been allowed to enter Macau, including Portugal and Brazil, even if they are obliged to comply with a seven-day quarantine in a designated hotel, plus three days of self-management at home.

However, Portuguese-speaking African countries were not included, a fact that Paulo do Espírito Santo said “does not benefit win-win cooperation”, asking that “justice” be done for these countries that also “have the pandemic under control”.

The pandemic sent Macau’s economy into recession in 2019.

“The excessive dependence on gambling has meant that [economic] diversification has been on the agenda of several governments, but without practical results”, lamented Sales Marques.

“That is why the 2nd Five-Year Plan provides for a series of measures for diversification”, namely through Lusofonia. This relationship is facilitated by the common history in the legislative domain, since the legal and administrative systems are “similar”, he added.

“The articulation between the legal and commercial system is an effective way to promote the relationship”, defended Wei Dan, deputy director of the Faculty of Law of the University of Macau.

But this cooperation is “much more comprehensive” and flows into the cultural, social and academic field, namely in sustainable development, stressed Joaquim Ramos de Carvalho, coordinator of the Portuguese International Training Center for Conference Interpretation at the Polytechnic University of Macau.

In addition to Macau having “advantages in the training of bilingual staff”, in the availability of large MICE infrastructures to promote exchanges and the integration of financial services between geographies, its relationship with Greater Bay allows it to be a dynamizer among peoples, described Paulo of the Holy Spirit.

The “holding of this event [in the midst of geopolitical conflicts and pandemic] is an irrefutable proof” of Macau’s role and the “will” of these peoples to strengthen cooperation, he concluded.

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