OPINION – High expectations

Last week the first Conference of the International Science, Technology and Innovation Forum (ISTIF), a so-called international exhibition of science, technology and innovation organized the Boao Forum for Asia and was held in Macau.

The event was awaited with some expectation, with organizers bringing a series of debates on 5G networks, intellectual property or autonomous driving and artificial intelligence.

Apart from the Boao Forum and the local government, the event also had as co-organizers the Macao Trade and Investment Promotion Institute South China University of Technology, with former Secretary for Economy and Finance, Lionel Long, even giving a hand.

Having never attended a previous edition of the Boao Forum of Asia in Hainan, I was excitedly waiting for a local version of the ‘Asian Davos’.

However, in my view, it was a very disappointing showing, with a feeling that 90 per cent of the effort for the event was concentrated on the more than two-hours-long inauguration ceremony on November 10.

We had a large line-up of Chinese government representatives, the Macau and Hong Kong Chief Executives and even Ban Ki-moon, President of the Boao Forum for Asia and former United Nations Secretary-General, the former Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo presenting speeches on how international cooperation in tech and science investigation was needed to overcome humanity’s largest challenges, including the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Of course, due to travel restrictions, most speeches were provided via recorded video messages or live broadcast through large screens in the considerably and still very unused large Forum Macao complex at Nam Vam Lake.

I found it interesting that the touted 5G WiFi in the inauguration was remarkably slower than any WiFi-Go public network in the city.

Maybe to avoid any lag in direct live messages, a letter from President Xi Jinping was read during the event, with the head of state pointing that cooperation is the path that will bring mutual benefits and global growth.

After the inauguration all government and diplomatic representatives scattered and no chance was given to the media to ask any questions following this procession of speeches.

Nevertheless, interested by the content of the sessions held within the conference at the Grand Hyatt, the next day I tried to attend a seminar on sustainable energy sources to be informed that there was no live translation either in Portuguese or English for the event.

Instead, I was offered the use of some kind of portable translating device, able to translate simple sentences in different languages. Some would call it a glorified Google Translate.

Basically, all sessions provided were solely provided in Mandarin, something I have obviously nothing against, but it just makes the international in the Conference of the International Science, Technology and Innovation Forum look like a mere decorative description.

It seems only the government speeches warranted any kind of live translation and it is a pity that an event associated with the Boao Forum seemed less accessible for the general public Chinese-speaking or otherwise than any of the trade or business fair held at The Venetian, especially when prior to the event some registration fees reached MOP1,800.

I also do not recall seeing the same government promotion or advertising you would likely see for, let’s say, a Macau Food Festival or a Fireworks Competition.

So what was really the purpose of this forum? To show how safe and open for business is that it can host this kind of events and boost some regional inter-cooperation? To make use of the Forum Macao building so it doesn’t get dust? To indicate China is open for science and technology research cooperation?

In a pandemic year it can be justified that this conference did not manage to reach its full potential. Luckily a second has already been announced for next year and we will anxiously await for a sequel that blows away its lukewarm predecessor.

[MNA Editor-in-Chief]