Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Lisbon, ending in a tour that took him to the G-20 in Argentina, to Panama and Spain, would necessarily be followed attentively in the Macau Special Administrative Region. Allow us to simplify the long-term ties between Portugal and this tiny enclave in the Pearl River Delta, and more than this, the different roles Macau has been called upon to perform directly or indirectly on behalf of China.
This time we found, perhaps with a bias or inclination to exaggeration, no role for Macau to play in the bilateral high-level talks between the Chinese superpower and Portugal’s resetting of its play in the global world. Not that Macau was totally absent from the joint understanding that both parties signed – it was not – but precisely because it was referred to as being “supported by Beijing and Lisbon” in its role as a platform for services for the commercial cooperation between China and Portuguese-speaking countries, and nothing else. Truth is, there was nobody connected to Macau in Xi Jinping’s entourage; any of the merits MSAR representatives had in building cooperation with Portugal on the back of the common history of the settlement since 16th century until the handover were irrelevant. Today that long road of history that took the Portuguese to the shores of China is to be changed into a narrative taking China to the shores of Portugal. Xi emphasized that both Beijing and Lisbon enjoy a long history of friendly exchanges, adding that since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1979 both parties have witnessed mutual and cooperative benefits, respect and trust. Days ago, Premier António Costa signed the agreement to join the Belt and Road Initiative.
Still at the level of the MSAR, that apparent relegation of Macau to a secondary role must function as a wakeup call to a new frugality: to confront itself with the only role left to play in the Portuguese factor, being as a platform of services to PLP and the horizon of the Greater Bay Area. This is more than enough, but it is human to regret being relegated a secondary role, downgraded with the angst of an extra in the movie set.
Now we sail to the Portuguese shore, or the potential destination dock of the maritime Silk Road, to evaluate the state visit of President Xi Jinping. Perhaps wired by the weight of the stakes, overall the local intelligence opted more for the fait accompli, in which in Brussels the potential for disengagement to the strengthening of an energy-related partnership with China or a strategic deep-water port network or even minor projects, as in blue and space economy, may arouse UE anger or US suspicion. Local discomfort came in the shape of a diplomat’s clumsy blogging and some innuendo about armored limousines and the hubris of paying the luxurious Ritz Hotel to close its doors for MOP20 million.
Despite the tangible outcomes of the 17 agreements Portugal and China signed days ago, politically – meaning strategically – on the Portuguese side, the added value is in upgrading China from a buyer of resources to an investor or scale partner in Portuguese endeavors: the CP high speed and auto (electric) industry and Panda bonds to denominate part of Portugal’s public debt.
On the Chinese side, the value is on CTG expanding its stake, the China Grid window to play energy connectivity with African Morocco and the Port of Sines.
Beyond China and Portugal, we have to wait for the ripples of some of the 17 agreements in an environment totally foreign to a sympathetic media.