Q&A | Arnaldo Gonçalves: Political Science and International Relations Scholar | ‘The Greater Bay Area is an old project with a new name’

Political science and international relations expert Arnaldo Gonçalves, who is a visiting professor at the Macau Polytechnic Institute, has been conducting research into the relations between Portugal and China and has authored eight books in the areas of political thought, law, political science and international relations.

Recently, Gonçalves participated in the 25th World Congress of Political Science held in Brisbane, Australia, where he presented a paper titled “Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions (SARs): China’s Southern Frontier?”
Interviewed by the Times, Gonçalves touched on issues such as the premature integration of the SARs into the Chinese province of Guangdong before the treaties that guarantee both territories autonomy from the mainland expire.

Macau Daily Times (MDT) – You believe a premature integration of the SARs in the Chinese province of Guangdong has been occurring. Can you explain to us your perspective on the topic that you took to the International Political Science Association (IPSA) World Congress in more detail?

Arnaldo Gonçalves (AG) – What we have been seeing in the last 20 years is that, even though there are no changes to the law and the statute of the SARs, the same does not happen regarding the environment.  There is a very high [degree of] pressure on the State Council and the Office for Hong Kong (HK) and Macau [of the State Council] to not just follow the policies [in] general terms but also to address the concrete policies and this has created a situation that I consider bizarre because there are two Chief Executives (CE) in the SARs, with each one of them having several secretaries in charge of sectorial policies and we start to understand that there are messages passed [from the Central government directly] to each of the sectorial policies, like a parallel government.  This situation is particularly visible in the limitations to the actions of the CEs, not just on the major topics, but also regarding the daily interventions, creating a situation that leads to the constant use of “slogans” in a Maoist style.

My communication is on the fact that from the official point-
of-view, the borders of China [are] in the Border Gate and on the border that separates [Hong Kong] from Shenzhen. Due to the basic laws and the joint declarations, in fact, what we have seen in the last 20 years [is] the displacement of such borders to the coastal borders of Hong Kong and Macau, blurring the borders of control of people and goods that existed between Hong Kong and Shenzhen and Macau and Zhuhai to the point [that] they [have almost] vanished.

MDT – What is the relation of this border movement with regional integration projects such as the Greater Bay Area?

AG – The [Greater Bay Area] policy is clearly to seduce businessmen to join the Guangdong strategy of projecting the province’s importance [in the context of China and worldwide].  Since the companies held by these tycoons are completely entangled with economic interests in the Guangdong province in a way that sometimes it is even hard to differentiate them, what it does is to mobilize them for such strategies and all initiatives that can happen in relation to that.

“[On] paper”, the change of Hong Kong and Macau to statutes close to the other provinces of China would happen in 2047 and 2049, respectively, but in reality this is accelerating in a vertiginous way. This period of 50 years is being shortened also due to the fact that, as I mentioned, the business community of Macau and Hong Kong are deeply rooted in the Guangdong province. They travel a lot to such cities to check on their businesses and that is one of the reasons why they often praise the policy of the Greater Bay Area. This policy is in fact, an old project with a new name, which means the “absorption” of the Special Administrative Regions by Guangdong province.

MDT – Will the Hong Kong-
Zhuhai-Macau (HKZM) Bridge be a catalyst for that process? What are the consequences?

AG – The Bridge will constitute a psychological factor to accelerate this territorial integration, physically, economically and in my perspective, politically [too]. The great challenge that I think will be in place for the observers will be to see how this political transition will occur in terms of the leadership of the two SARs. I think Macau residents need to prepare themselves [for] the fact that sooner or later the Chief Executive will stop coming directly from the [local] community and will be someone appointed by Beijing, from the Chinese community, from the Chinese diaspora that settled in the SARs, who is of course [someone] that fulfills the criteria of the seven years [to be a permanent resident] and be a supporter or very close to the [Chinese] Communist Party.
That’s the position of Xi Jinping, contrary to the [position of] Deng Xiaoping that had a clear separation between the State and the party. Xi says China is the State and the State is the Party, without any separations. This was very clear starting from the end of Xi’s first mandate and the start of the second one. Xi assumed himself as the ‘Paramount Leader’ of China or how Chinese say, the ‘Core Leader’ and […] assumed a posture that is in all similar to the Maoist tradition. Sooner or later, we are going to see the road links connecting all the new landfills to the Peninsula and the Islands [Taipa and Coloane] but also to the other islands that are under [the jurisdiction of] China. I think maybe in 20 years (or maybe less), all this will be connected and will not have any separation anymore.

MDT – Is local society opposed to this premature absorption?

AG – There is no opposition in Macau; we don’t even know what [that is]. And, in fact, as I see it, the [possible] strategy of such opposition has not been well disclosed. I can say that the opposition in Macau [to Beijing’s ideas] has been frozen in time due to the political battles of the 1990’s, after the events at Tiananmen [Square].

The ideology, the values and the goals are the same as the ones back in the 1990’s and not similar to the goals or the aims that exist in 2017 or 2018.

The political message of [for example]  “New Macau” [New Macau Association] easily became obsolete and only with the “new blood” of Sulu Sou and Jason Chao [has it] had some update, but even in this case, this happened by imitating Hong Kong and not something generated locally.

This is why Macau does not face any problems [of opposition to the government], contrary to what happens in Hong Kong, and the current CE and all the upcoming ones just need to obey loyally … the guidelines that come from Beijing and annually go to Beijing to pay homage to the leaders and ensure things work fine in this mechanical way.

MDT – Why do you think there is not an opposition like that in Hong Kong?

AG – Firstly, it is because Macau always had little political conscientiousness and then it’s just like the “Belt and Road” initiative. What’s the real possibility of Macau, a place of a little over 30 square kilometers of area and of a little over 600,000 people of participating from a project of such nature? There isn’t one! Where are the service companies, the marketing, the information and new technologies? There is no business structure that allows Macau to add anything to this project. It just doesn’t exist! In Hong Kong, yes, there are some. Hong Kong can be considered a Congress and Exhibition Center, [whereas] Macau doesn’t have the capacity to stand alone with this. I think that it is a bit “naïve” to use […] such wording in the official speeches and to classify Macau as a Conference [and Exhibition] Center.

MDT – Do you anticipate any changes at that level in economic terms?

AG – I can’t see [or perceive] any changes [to] the economic model of Macau. Macau will always be led by the gaming sector and all the other sectors are secondary and small add-
ups. Our only differentiating factor that Macau possesses and that the CEs [current and former one] have been addressing, either by their initiative or by order of China or both, is the connection of Macau to the Portuguese-speaking countries, which is something that Hong Kong cannot do.
Another area  in which Macau could develop would be in terms of heritage; there isn’t a realistic or courageous policy for the heritage protection.  There are trade-offs happening and this happens because the people that have interests in the real estate business are inside the Legislative Assembly (AL) and the policies need  the AL’s approval. They will never accept policies that will go against their interests. This is really a shame.

MDT – What are some of the concrete measures that could be taken?

AG – In all big cities, the area of the historical center is not open to traffic and it’s solely dedicated to pedestrians. This opens the historical center to the city to the population so they can make a proper use of it. In Macau, this was never possible and the historical center is crushed by the buildings and it’s crushed by the thousands of people that visit it in very poor conditions, without any space or any tranquility to visit these places.
They are like mobs that invade the city escorted by tour guides that “drag them” through places where they don’t possess any mood or peace of mind to enjoy whatever they are visiting. We could have a real policy for these visits, a modern thing, but for that we need to have political courage and determination from the government, as well as [the] capacity to state that to the interests that surround real estate. Unfortunately, that does not happen.

Lisbon to host the26th ipsa world congress in 2020

The International Political Science Association (IPSA) has announced that the city of Lisbon, Portugal, has been selected to host the 26th IPSA World Congress of Political Science. The event will be held at Universidade Nova de Lisboa from July 25 to 30, 2020. The scientific association expects to draw a huge participation from its over 3,500 members around the world, in a city that the committee described as a “top tourist destination known for its art, culture and cuisine.” Arnaldo Gonçalves told the Times that he will represent Macau in this congress.

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