Get beaten on both sides

The benefits for Macau are obvious: international prestige and a stage for affirming the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle. But, the model created by China continues to raise many doubts. 

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

In any scenario, Macau will always benefit the most from the creation of the Forum (the success achieved by each member is also the success of the initiative). 

Even if, in the end, none of the member countries would reap benefits from the existence of this body – and, as evidenced by this special report, this is not true – the fact that the Forum has the name and headquarters in Macau would already be prestigious. 

This does not mean that Macau’s role is smooth. 

In fact, Macau seems to suffer the most from the overly Chinese model and the main victim of this kind of hybridism designed by Beijing. 

“Even though its formal structure may give the Forum a multilateral appearance, the procedures at the operational level uncover a different dynamic, marked by a balance skewed in China’s favor,” state researchers Chris Alden and Ana Cristina Alves. “This reality stems from the fact that Beijing retains the policy initiative and provides the bulk of the funding (MoFCoM and the Macau executive).” 

Alden, one of the world’s leading researchers on China’s presence in Africa, and Alves understand, “Although PSC are aware that there is only a slim chance that a non-Chinese will ever become Secretary General of the Forum Macau, they insisted in leaving an open window. During this revision of the statutory rules, the PSC also tried (unsuccessfully) to enforce a two-thirds majority in decision making as opposed to consensus ruling proposed by the Chinese side (meaning China’s standing cannot be overruled).” 

“China is in charge here. No country gives money, only China. If you come to eat at my house, I make the dinner and eat what I have in the pantry. The PSC have a word, but in the end, after all, China is the one who pays the bill. Delegates here are mere spectators,” said one of the Forum’s delegates, interviewed by Portuguese researcher, Sofia Gaspar, for his master’s thesis. 

In other words, according to these and other researchers, there are two blocks in the Forum: on the one hand, China, with money and power, the PSC, without money and with little executive power. But, without them, the Forum cannot exist. 

In the middle is Macau. 

Macau does not doubt the benefits that result from the existence of the Forum, but it does not seem to want to be overly involved. It is as if the Forum were a luxury car that China left parked in a park called Macau. Macau can get in the car, but they’re not comfortable driving it. 

Two examples of this discomfort: the previous Chief Executive did not make a single trip to any of the PSCs (with the exception of Portugal); the government has been discussing the transformation of the Permanent Secretariat Support Office into a Services Directorate for many months, with no apparent results. 

“If you come to eat at my house, I make the dinner and eat what I have in the pantry. The PSC have a word, but in the end, after all, China is the one who pays the bill” – anonymous Forum’s delegate 

Nevertheless, “The Macau SAR and the Forum Macau are not only for the promotion of trade and economic cooperation, but also for the aim of maintaining or strengthening the links between China and the Portuguese speaking countries. I believe that Macau is performing her para diplomatic role,” explains to Macau Business Sonia Chan Prado, President of the Executive Board of MAPEAL, Macao Association for the Promotion of Exchange between Asia-Pacific and Latin America. 

Ms Chan Prado adds, “China is making use of Macau’s uniqueness to bring together the Portuguese countries to seek for mutual economic benefits on one hand, while working to maintain or strengthen their support to China on the other hand.” 

Overlay with FOCAC 

The five Portuguese-speaking African countries also form the China-Africa Forum (FOCAC). 

At the last summit (2018), Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe participated at the highest level, with their respective political leaders, which never happened with the summits of Forum Macau. 

More: Everyone took advantage of the event to promote their respective economies in Beijing. In the end, millions of dollars of bilateral aid were announced (in some cases after meetings with Xi Jinping). 

“Indeed, the Forum Macau and the China-Africa Forum overlap, and what is truly strategic for China is the China-Africa Forum,” considers Portuguese researcher Paulo Duarte.