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Too focused on their own belly

Paulo Rego

The end-of-year speeches by both Xi Jinping and Macau’s Chief Executive didn’t bring much news, with both opting for self-praise on economic development, focusing on the post-Covid recovery and the economic diversification strategy, based on investing in cutting-edge sectors. The “inevitable reunification” of Taiwan, once again emphasized by the Chinese President, was highlighted in the international press. However, China’s role on the international stage and Macau’s mission as a bridge to Lusophony were conspicuously absent from both speeches.

There is a constant contradiction in Western analyses of Xi’s incisive tone in Taiwan and his speech as a whole. Because the “inevitability of reunification” is generally interpreted as a threat of invasion by force of arms. However, as is also his habit, the Chinese leader repeated his regret that there are “places in the world in the midst of war”, guaranteeing that the Chinese people “are very aware of the value of peace”, which is why they are “willing to work with the international community to promote the construction of a community with a shared future for humanity”. Which doesn’t match up with the militaristic ghost that Washington in particular has been promoting.

In fact, this was Xi Jinping’s only mention of international politics, and he never touched on the importance of recovering international markets and the fight against protectionist barriers erected in the West in the wake of Covid-zero. Even stranger is the almost exclusive focus on domestic politics, when Xi Jinping had the trump card of meeting Joe Biden, by far the most important event of the year. Both for the economy and for peace and environmental sustainability.

In Ho Iat Seng’s case, the visit to Portugal – the only one abroad in his first term – as well as the promises of ambition on the Lusophone bridge, were also forgotten in his speech. In addition to the recovery of tourism and gambling, which is real, the Chief Executive focused on regional integration and the Greater Bay Area, making it clear that Macau’s development strategy is subsidiary to the national plan. In the field of economic diversification, the central theme of the year-end message, the extensive list mentioned is still very much at the level of plans and promises. In fact, there has been no significant progress.

The importance of economic globalization, both for China’s recovery and for Macau’s affirmation, is at odds with this nationalist mindset – which is not new. The opportunities offered by the world’s second largest economy, but also by an autonomous region dedicated to helping China open doors, are also essential to showing Taiwan that a closer relationship with Beijing does not mean turning its back on the world.

Chinese practice is far more internationalist than these speeches show, but the truth is that Xi Jinping has not taken advantage of global instability to affirm China as the leader of a new cycle of peace and development. His strength is inescapable, so it’s always possible to take up this line again. However, in the case of Ho Iat Seng, who leads a small autonomous region, made big by the combination of gambling revenues and its historic openness to the West, this opportunity does not fall from the sky. Ho Iat Seng’s practice has been particularly fragile in this regard, which is why it is precisely on the strength of a conscious discourse on this mission that the opportunity can be recovered.

It is not clear at this stage whether there is a lack of will and know-how to do so, or whether Ho Iat Seng believes that the path to a second term is exclusively linked to economic recovery and patriotic discourse. What is certain is that Macau’s – and China’s – race towards the future will not be won without the globalization of its political mindset.

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