Friday, March 9, 2012
The Macau Forum: a Chinese diplomatic success
After nearly 500 years of Portuguese rule, Macau was returned to China in 1999.
While several diplomats and intellectuals from the former colonial power debated the future of Sino-Portuguese ties and Lisbon’s relation to its former enclave, most believed there was very little Portugal could do to retain its influence in the territory — if they gave the topic much thought at all.
Bucking this trend, General Rocha Vieira, the last governor of Macau, was keen to preserve Portuguese culture and language in the territory, and retain strong cultural ties with the small — but influential — Latinised Macanese community. General Rocha Vieira thus proposed the creation of the Macau Forum in 1999, aiming to promote ties between Portugal and Macau, and between lusophone countries and China more broadly.
The idea eventually came to fruition in 2003, when the Chinese government helped establish the Forum for Economic and Trade Cooperation Between China and Portuguese-Speaking Countries, also referred to as the Macau Forum. It is made up of eight countries: Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, China, Guinean Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal and Timor-Leste, with Macau as an observer member. This lusophone community is spread across four continents and covers more than 250 million people.
The Macau Special Administrative Region hosts the Macau Forum under the auspices of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, with the Chinese government providing most of the funding for the Forum, and the Macanese government contributing a smaller portion. In addition to promoting commercial ties between China and the lusophone community, the Forum also organises training courses and investment seminars for member countries’ officials, and it funds — along with several Chinese businesses — a number of media publications. These publications report on economic and trade matters and provide information on the lusophone countries’ and China’s economies.
Adding to this focus, the Forum hosts a ministerial-level meeting to discuss economic and trade matters every two three years.
So, have the efforts to promote economic and commercial cooperation with the lusophone nations paid off for China? It would certainly seem to be the case. In 2003–06, trade between China and the lusophone countries more than tripled, growing from US$10 billion to US$34 billion, and in 2011, it reached an impressive US$117 billion. In 2009, Brazil, the world’s seventh-largest economy, became China’s largest trading partner in the southern hemisphere, with bilateral trade reaching US$42 billion. China also surpassed the US as Brazil’s main trading partner after more than 80 years of American dominance.
Looking to Africa, Angola has been China’s largest trading partner on the continent since 2008 — with bilateral trade reaching US$24 billion in 2010 — and it temporarily served as China’s largest oil supplier in 2007. Additionally, China became Mozambique’s third-largest trading partner in 2010. China has also become a major source of soft loans for the two countries, granting Angola a reported US$15 billion since 2002 and over US$2 billion to Mozambique.
China has gained substantial diplomatic support through these relations, particularly on issues such as human rights, trade and global warming. Chinese navy pilots have trained on the Brazilian aircraft carrier São Paulo, and both countries have jointly produced satellites as well as a jetliner. Portugal also seems open to the idea of lifting the EU arms embargo on China — which the EU implemented after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests — and is a sympathetic voice in many international forums.
While the Macau Forum is not the only force behind the impressive expansion in Sino-lusophone relations, it has certainly played a crucial role in accelerating the process. With minimal, but rather smart, investment, China has obtained tremendous economic and diplomatic gains. Still, the relationship is by no means free of controversy. Portugal and Brazil resent China’s growing presence in Latin America and Africa, their traditional spheres of influence. And in the past decade, Brazil has lodged over 100 trade complaints against China in the WTO, and enacted commercial measures to counter what it perceives as unfair practices. Despite these irritants, relations between China and the lusophone countries are likely to continue to expand as both sides have gained a great deal from the partnership.
China is building an impressive presence in the lusophone world, and the Macau Forum is bringing China tremendous economic and diplomatic gains — although it is increasingly facing competition from Brazil and India for the lucrative African market. Nevertheless, China has established a strong position in the lusophone world and, despite the competition, is committed to keeping it.
Loro Horta is a graduate of the People’s Liberation Army National Defence University and is currently pursuing further studies at the Naval Postgraduate School. He was the United Nations National Project Manager for Security-Sector Reform in Timor-Leste.East Asia Forum
Lusophone? Can anyone define what this means please? Tks Kerry
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