Economic, Trade, and Political

Did China set up Forum Macau to do more business or, in fact, do the objectives go far beyond financial issues? Increasingly, voices are reminiscent of political advantages. 

MB May 2020 Special Report | Forum Macau: 17 years, old enough? 

The Forum is for “Economic and Trade” but there has been a growing perception that there are more than economic goals, China seeks political gains from this initiative. 

The idea of a political base, underlying the formation of the Forum, came first from Portuguese researchers. 

Carmen Amado Mendes, University of Coimbra, Portugal, is one of the most active to reflect on the organization. She understands that China’s approach to the Portuguese speaking world seeks to avoid the recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign state and gain support in International Organizations. 

With Forum Macau, Ms. Amado sustains China achieves other goals, such as being accepted as a great power, challenging western hegemony, and taking advantage of common interests with Brazil and the antagonisms between African and Western elites to achieve greater space on the international stage. 

Another Portuguese researcher, working at the National University of Singapore, Ana Cristina Alves, speaks at a Forum as an instrument of China’s foreign policy, which compliments the relations with this group of countries. “As with Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, the interest of China [on Forum Macau] goes much beyond expanding trade and economic cooperation. For China, this is mostly a diplomatic instrument to step up its influence within the Portuguese speaking block, a market of 270+ million people and a block spreading across four continents and holding eight votes in the UN and other multilateral institutions,” she explains to Macau Business. 

These ideas are being developed in the last years by several researchers. “The biggest contribution of the Forum Macau in relations between China and the Portuguese spoken countries (PSC) is of a political nature, achieved through contact diplomacy,” writes Sofia Gaspar, in her master’s thesis. “China builds contact networks and relationships of trust with the PSC, solidified through the organization of events, exchange of visits, and gifts. From its interlocutors, Beijing expects reciprocity and loyalty in the International System, which can be materialized, for example, in the supply of raw materials, in commercial contracts, or in political fidelity in international forums.” 

“The biggest contribution of the Forum Macau in relations between China and the Portuguese spoken countries (PSC) is of a political nature, achieved through contact diplomacy” – Sofia Gaspar 

This author explains the usefulness that China recognizes in this mode of diplomacy “in the light of the Chinese cultural practice of guanxi, through which Chinese society is organized around a network of contacts and solidarity.” 

Among the authors of Chinese origin, who have been interested in the theme of the relationship with the PSC, Ip Kuai Peng, currently dean at City University of Macau, stands out. 

Ip argues that the forum is an important means through which the PRC and the PSC establish a new type of strategic partnership at various levels. One is the political, through equity and mutual trust; another the economic one, through mutually beneficial cooperation; but also cultural, by virtue of mutual exchange. 

Professor Ip Kuai Peng was a pioneer in the concept of “forum diplomacy.” 

But, there are those who understand that the main motivation remains economic: “the existence of the Forum Macau is part of the Chinese political agenda to advance, trade, and commerce, but as such, it is not a political organization,” understands Francisco Leandro, Associate Professor and Assistant Dean, Institute for Research on Portuguese Speaking Countries, City University of Macau. 

This researcher acknowledges the Forum “it was created by China, designed by China, is managed by China, is led by China, is funded by China with the participation of MSAR, and it is open to multilateral participation of all PSC.” 

Professor Leandro points out that “the Forum promotes cultural exchange, people-to-people  exchange, vertical intergovernmental and extra-governmental relations, visibility actions and short term education initiatives, with the purpose of advancing the Chinese interests, in a cooperative manner, with the PSC, in the area of trade and economic cooperation.”