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Bring lusophony to the Greater Bay

Nelson Moura

Analysts explain that the visit of the Chief Executive of Macau to Portugal is important for China, namely in attracting Portuguese-speaking investment to Greater Bay. Portugal’s attitude in de-escalating tensions between the European Union and China is also highlighted.

The first visit of the Chief Executive of Macau to Portugal will take place in the third week of April. According to Fernanda Ilhéu, President of the Associação Amigos da Nova Rota da Seda, this first visit is seen with great expectations by all those involved in cooperation between Portugal and China, with a special focus on the Macao SAR.

“This visit by the Chief Executive of Macau is very important, because Portugal and Macau need to have a constructive dialogue on how they can strengthen cooperation in two structuring projects: the Greater Bay Area and the One Belt, One Road Initiative” , he tells PLATFORMA. Cooperation that “is seen in several areas; not only in health and education, but also in science, economics and finance, building green energy, communications, digitization and transport infrastructure, agro-industrial development and reinforcement of special economic zones for industrial and logistical development and processing .”

For the president of the China Observatory of Portugal, Rui Lourido, Ho Iat Seng’s visit will be a “true contribution” to the intensification of Portugal’s relations with Macau and China.

“The fact that it is his first post-pandemic visit abroad, and that his agenda includes the ‘importance of the Portuguese language and culture as a differentiating factor and as a competitive advantage for Macau in relation to other regions of China’, assumes a special importance for the Portuguese-speaking community in Macau and for the Portuguese who intend to invest in Macau and China”, he highlights.

For the researcher, the visit also represents a step towards deepening relations between China and Europe, considering that Ho Iat Seng will be received by the main Portuguese authorities: President of the Republic, Prime Minister, President of the Assembly of the Republic and Minister of Business Foreigners.

Unlike his visit to Portuguese lands, on his visit to Brussels, described as a “courtesy”, the leader of the Macao SAR will not be received by any high-ranking dignitary of the European Union. “For Portuguese diplomacy, it is important to demonstrate its ability to mediate and contribute to overcoming tensions between some European countries and China, defending its privileged and secular relations with Macau and China”, notes Lourido.

Uninterrupted cooperation

Ilhéu stresses that despite the pandemic, there has always been diplomatic dialogue between Portugal and China in the economic field, involving issues such as the “import of products of an agro-industrial nature from Portugal, such as beef, grapes, pear-rocha, among others”.

“In Lisbon, we saw the Commercial Section of the Chinese Embassy organizing, in partnership with the General Directorate of Economic Activities, training courses for companies on import processing in China or with AICEP on investment in China”, notes the economist .

Ilhéu points out that considering the tradition of the heads of the Executive to make their first visit to Portugal after taking office, under normal conditions this visit would possibly have taken place in 2020.

However, he stresses that during the pandemic, diplomatic relations between the two sides were not “frozen”, but on the contrary were “intense” in areas such as bilateral cooperation in the fight against the pandemic.

“I also remember that in 2020 the Fund to Support the Translation and Publication of Portuguese authors in China was created, with the aim of translating 28 works into Chinese, some of which have already been published, and that in 2019 there were 30 universities in China that offered courses in the language. Portuguese, and now there are about 56”, he comments.

“In this area, the Ministry of Education of China approved in May 2022 the project of a Faculty of the University of Lisbon, more specifically of the Instituto Superior Técnico at the University of Shanghai, with the joint offer of three degrees and three masters in Electrical and Computer Engineering , Civil Engineering and Environmental Engineering”.

For Lourido, the visit could be an opportunity to invite residents of Portugal and Portuguese-speaking countries to invest in the Greater Bay, in particular in the development of the Deep Cooperation Zone between Guangdong and Macau, in Hengqin. “The Greater Bay has become a privileged space for investment in industries with added value and high technological, financial and university performance already established in Hengqin, creating objective conditions that may allow Macao to escape dependence on the gaming/tourism industry”, point.

“In this context, the visit of the Head of the Macao SAR may create better conditions to attract and interconnect the extensive inland market of South China with international markets and, in particular, Portuguese-speaking countries, all of which are represented at Forum Macau.”

Ilhéu considers that the visit should be used to discuss how to reinforce the trilateral cooperation platform in the economic and commercial field between China, Portugal and other Portuguese-speaking countries.

“The Macau Forum should have a more pragmatic approach to companies in these countries, with sectoral approaches and integrated by a vision of joint development. The missions carried out before Covid-19 revealed, through their programs, a more relationship-oriented vision between government representatives than between businessmen”, he stresses.

Lourido recalls that the governments of China and Portuguese-speaking countries reaffirmed at the Macau Forum, in 2022, the need to deepen reciprocal relations, with some members stating that it was necessary to expand investments in the Cooperation and Development Fund between China and Portuguese Speaking Countries, created in 2013 with a total capital of one billion US dollars. “The fund should cover many more projects and be more accessible, even to countries with greater weaknesses, expanding its investment to more cultural activities to promote Macao and Chinese culture outside China.”

Reassure the community

In Ilhéu’s opinion, another important aspect to be debated is the problem of confidence in the future of Macau and the way in which the Portuguese population who were born there or decided to live there can integrate.

“With Covid and the restrictions imposed on the movement of people, many Portuguese came to Portugal and some decided not to return, it is important for Macau and for relations between Portugal and China that the Portuguese social fabric in Macau is strengthened.” According to the person in charge, this would involve attracting Portuguese staff to work in Macau in the areas of health, basic and higher education, in technical, scientific, cultural, business, financial areas, etc.

Lourido indicates that the respect of the Central Government of China for the transition process of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ has been “fundamental for the political and legal autonomy of Macau”, as well as for the multicultural, multiethnic and linguistic diversity of its population, with the recognition of Portuguese as an official language, something he hopes will continue.

“Macau has determinedly promoted the teaching of the Portuguese language in the Macao SAR and China has stood out as the country where the number of schools teaching the Portuguese language has grown the fastest”, he points out.

The researcher also highlighted the support of the MSAR to the organization of artistic meetings – such as the annual festival of Portuguese-speaking countries – literary and scientific, and the financial support for the Portuguese language edition of several newspapers in Macau, as well as the initiative of the Observatório da China to establish a Digital Library with all works on Macao/China between the 16th and 19th centuries.

With the placement of a new Portuguese consul in the Macao SAR, a new Portuguese ambassador in China and a new AICEP delegate in Macau, Ilhéu hopes that it will not start “from scratch” and that these representatives will continue the efforts made so far.

“I hope that the transfer of skills is well structured and that those who now arrive in China will take advantage of the experience and knowledge of their colleagues who are leaving for other missions”, he concludes.

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