Exclusive interview | Consul General Alexandre Giorgini: There are ‘romantic and historical links between France and Macau’

Alexandre Giorgini is a happy man in the place he was meant to be, since coming to China was a long-time aspiration.

In his maiden interview with Macau media, Giorgini reveals that he “studied this country a lot, especially when I was a student at Moscow State University.”

Last summer, his dream came true: he was appointed Consul General of France for Hong Kong and Macau for the biggest role in his 20-year diplomatic career.

Prior to his assignment to the SARs, Alexandre Giorgini was Deputy Director of Communication and Press and Deputy Spokesperson at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His first assignment abroad was in Rome, after which he served as political counselor at the French Embassy in Moscow, Russia from 2008 to 2012.

He studied history at Sciences Po where he discovered a passion for history and historical figures, particularly Napoleon. France is commemorating the famous emperor’s 250th anniversary this year, and the consulate’s website is very active posting regular trivia and facts on Napoleon.

The French diplomat supports the development of democracy in both SARs “in the legal framework of the Basic Laws” and has shown a real interest in the Greater Bay Area projects, which already attracted French companies.

Recently, he visited Macau and discussed ways of cooperating with local authorities in the fields of heritage conservation, fashion and, bien sûr, gastronomy.

Macau Daily Times (MDT) – You have recently been on a visit to Macau where you met some officials from the local administration. Can you tell us the purpose and the results of those meetings?

Alexandre Giorgini (AG) – After taking office last September, I paid several courtesy visits to Macau officials. I had the pleasure of meeting Chief Executive Fernando Chui in October, and last month I had very fruitful meetings with Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Alexis Tam, as well as officials from the Cultural Affairs Bureau. We discussed the many different aspects of our bilateral relations and both parties are committed to stepping up our cooperation, especially in the economic and cultural sectors.

We have a flourishing trade partnership with Macau. Our exports to Macau grew by 33 percent in 2018 to 823 million euros, and France is currently the territory’s third supplier of goods. French products and services are already visible in all aspects of Macau life: luxury products, wine and gastronomy, of course, but also utilities, water supply and infrastructure. With the support of the France Macau Chamber of Commerce, we look forward to the many opportunities that lie ahead as Macau is emerging as one of the wealthiest places in the world.

We also wish to deepen our cultural cooperation with Macau, particularly in sectors such as cinema, fashion and design. In addition, France has an acknowledged expertise in heritage preservation, so we hope to cooperate with the Macau authorities to enhance the city’s rich cultural heritage. Finally, Macau has a very vibrant culinary scene, so it is a perfect place to develop stronger links with French gastronomy.

MDT – How often do you visit Macau and keep contact with the French community?

AG – I try to visit Macau at least once a month. I exchange regularly with our partner institutions, such as Alliance Française, and with our contact points and representatives of the French community. My residence is in Hong Kong, but I am also accredited for Macau and my team is [as well]. We have an officer visiting every month to provide administrative services to our compatriots.

MDT – What are the major problems your nationals face in Macau?

AG – From what I have heard and what I have been witnessing myself, the French who live here are very happy in Macau.

The Alliance Française of Macau (AFM) was founded in 1987 and has been doing a great job of organizing events for the French community and Macau citizens to enjoy. We are very happy that more and more people, especially young children, aim to learn French. However, the [AFM] current premises have become too small as the association has been growing over the years. So, we need to think ahead to find a bigger, more appropriate place.

There is no French school in Macau, so parents send their children to English-speaking schools or homeschool them with distance-learning material provided by the French Ministry of Education (CNED).

MDT – Leading up to Le French May and other yearly events promoted or supported by the Consulate, the Chamber of Commerce and Alliance Française, what can we expect in terms of French activities in town?

AG – In the upcoming months, highlights include “Le French May” [featuring] events such as a chamber music concert by the “Ensemble Ouranos”, formed by five young musicians from the Paris Conservatory, on 25 May 2019 at the Dom Pedro V Theatre.

The Alliance Française is also very active, with many events to promote French culture with exhibitions, movie screenings and concerts. Furthermore, French artists and writers will participate in many local events such as the Script Road, the Macau Literary Festival.

Obviously, we are looking forward to Bastille Day in July, the Alliance Française’s Baroque Music Festival in November with a special programme to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Macau’s handover, and the France Macau Chamber of Commerce’s annual charity gala in January!

MDT – Hong Kong’s French community is the second largest in Asia after Singapore. Besides the huge gap in numbers, what specifically differentiates the Macau and HK communities? 

AG – Both communities are young, half of them being under 35 years old. A majority of them have settled in the region for the long term, as half of them have also been living in either Macau or Hong Kong for more than five years.

Their profiles are very diverse, with expatriates assigned in the region by French companies, entrepreneurs who chose to start their business in Macau or Hong Kong, or young graduates looking for a first professional experience abroad.

Obviously, Hong Kong being an international finance center, many French people working in the financial sector pursue their career in Hong Kong, whereas in Macau, most French people work in the luxury, catering or hotel industry. 

MDT – Do you see a growth trend in the French community in Macau as the city pursues its vision of becoming a more international city? Why?

AG – The figures have been growing steadily in the past few years. Macau is attractive to the French because it offers many business opportunities, but also because it provides a very pleasant living environment. There is also a cultural proximity linked to Portugal’s heritage in Macau’s culture, tradition and cuisine. As a matter of fact, many French people are of Portuguese descent and they feel pretty much at home when they settle here.

We stand ready to support any cultural projects to enhance Macau as an international hub.

MDT – Macau and Hong Kong were given “starring roles” in the ambitious Greater Bay Area (GBA) project. Some observers see a risk here concerning the maintenance of Macau and Hong Kong’s autonomous status, and a possible threat to the “two systems” backdrop. What is your view on the GBA?

AG – I am personally following this project very closely. France is very attached to Macau and Hong Kong’s unique specificities, which are a key factor behind their attractiveness for foreign investments. We are looking into what opportunities the Greater Bay Area project could offer to French companies.

MDT – Are France and its communities in China engaged in the GBA initiative? How so?

AG – French companies have been contributing to the infrastructure projects of the GBA initiative. Dragages- Bouygues Construction was involved in the construction of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai- Macau mega-bridge, as well as the Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok Link subsea tunnel section which will connect Lantau island with Shenzhen through Hong Kong New Territories.

On March 21 and 22, 100 representatives of French business in Greater China met in Hong Kong to discuss the GBA initiative and how our companies could take part in the development plan.

MDT – Speaking of politics, what is your view on political reforms in Macau and in HK? Do you support the development of democracy?

AG – France is committed to the stability and the prosperity of Macau and Hong Kong. We are attached to the “one country, two systems” principle which we believe is a key factor in their attractiveness. We support democratic reforms in both special administrative regions, in accordance with their Basic Laws and the wishes of the people of Macau and Hong Kong.

We will follow the upcoming election process with great interest, as well as what will be organized by the Macau authorities for the 20th anniversary of the handover. There will be a great interest in Macau in this special year!

MDT – On a more personal note, you were miles away from China – except for learning Mandarin in Moscow – when you landed this job, which looks like a promotion in your career. It must have been – and must still be – challenging for you. Is it?

AG – I have been willing to come to China for a long time. I studied this country a lot, especially when I was a student at Moscow State University and had the opportunity to make an exchange with Beijing Beida University. China’s diversity and the challenges that the country is facing are fascinating. So, I did not think twice when I was offered this posting at the Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau. Representing my country in this vibrant environment is indeed a great challenge!

MDT – What was the biggest surprise and the biggest disappointment upon arrival to Macau for the first time?

AG – Obviously, I was amazed by the city’s dynamism when I first set foot in Macau. I was impressed by the city’s architecture, and also by the contrast between its heritage buildings and modern complexes. I haven’t gotten to meet many Portuguese speakers yet, but I would be happy to, as I really appreciate this language that I learned during my first diplomatic experience in Brazil.

On a more personal note, I had the pleasant surprise to discover some traces of French explorer Louis de Rienzi in Macau. This man, who was a soldier in the Napoleonic army, stayed in Macau in 1827, and he left a beautiful poem honoring Portuguese poet Luis de Camoes. This can still be seen on a tablet in the Camoes Garden and grotto! I was very moved to see that even on the occasion of a family walk in a park, you can discover romantic and historical links between France and Macau!

The French soldier-writer who loved Camões

Just last Saturday (March 30), France was celebrating the 230th anniversary of the birth of explorer Louis de Rienzi, the Napoleonic soldier who engraved a poem in stone dedicated to Portugal’s greatest poet at the Camões grotto.

Like Camões, Rienzi led a very adventurous and romantic life.

After serving as a captain in Napoleon’s armies and fighting in the Greek independence war, Rienzi traveled to Asia and stayed in Macau from 1827 to 1829. Being a great admirer of Luis Vaz de Camões – who was sent to Macau during his third exile in the 1560s – Rienzi wrote a poem in 1827 (on the day of his own birthday) to pay him a tribute.

He displayed it on a tablet in the Camoes grotto next to the bust at the very location where the famous poem “Os Lusíadas” was purportedly written. Praising his talent and feeling compassion for his exile, Rienzi wrote: “Le temps qui détruit tout agrandira sa gloire” (time, that destroys everything, will magnify its glory).

The act of admiration wasn’t without controversy. In his unpublished book about French travelers’ accounts of Macau during the 17-19th centuries, historian Ivo Carneiro de Sousa mentions two travelers who described Rienzi’s “graffiti” at the grotto.

In 1859, Jean-Baptiste Benoît Eyriès from Marseille wrote in his depiction of Macau that, “The Camões grotto, the sacred asylum of the poet, was plastered: inscriptions in Chinese and even in French were engraved there. One of the authors of this sacrilege was one of our compatriots, Louis de Rienzi, who traveled around China around 1826. Then an Englishman, jealous of French glory, covered the verses with a new layer of plaster.”

Historian and Orientalist Carneiro de Sousa considers it “a bad poem,” but recognizes the important works written by Rienzi on his voyages in Oceania.

As Rienzi returned to France intending to publish stories about his travels to Egypt, Abyssinia, China and the Philippines, he boarded the Dourado, a Portuguese vessel which wrecked on the east coast of Bintang, Indonesia.

In an instant, the fruits of years of labor suddenly vanished for Rienzi, as his research as well as a vast collection of collected antiquities went to the sea. Among them were statues, inscriptions, manuscripts, arms, astronomical instruments, and remains he brought from the ruins of Petra in Arabia, and Syre and Assab in Abyssinia, along with plans and drawings of the places that he was the first to visit. He nevertheless made his way back to Paris where he published some books about China and Oceania, and told the stories of his travels at academies such as the “Société de Géographie.”

Louis Grégoire Domeny de Rienzi, born in Cavaillon, on March 30 1789, was a descendant of medieval Italian statesman Cola di Rienzo, and that explains his signature in Camões grotto:

L´Humble Louis De Rienzi, Français d´origine Romaine, voyageur religieux, soldat et poète [expratrié] – soldier, poet, exiled…

The adventurous poetry lover decided to end his life tragically, as he committed suicide by shooting himself in the gardens of a Versailles hospice in 1843. PC

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