OPINION – Macau: the blue link chain for interculturalism and economic advancement – a vision for the new era

Li Yichao and Francisco Silva Leandro

Institute for Research on Portuguese Speaking Countries, City University of Macau 

The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China released in January 2021 a document titled: China’s International Development Cooperation in the New Era. This prospective document not only acknowledges China as the largest developing country in the world, but more importantly sees China as a future builder of world peace, a contributor to global prosperity, and a defender of international order. In light of this idea, it makes sense to investigate Macau’s contributing role to this national endeavour.

Macau, as a Chinese territory with a special historical linkage with the Lusophone world, is expected to deliver three substantial contributions to China’s new era of economic and social advancement: (1) promote people-to-people exchange and endorse functional interculturalism; (2) encourage trade and services facilitation; (3) contribute to the infrastructural foundations of the “access with consent” concept. These three complementary areas, in the domestic arena, are to be carried out in the context of longstanding political coordination and decentralization of implementation, as well as, from an external point of view, in the framework of responsible multilateralism.

Practically speaking, Macau’s contributing role lies in four key aspects that are expected to be developed: (1) the enablement of the development of the concept of blue partnership as a comprehensive economy concept; (2) the support to the extension of the China – Indian Ocean – Africa – Mediterranean Sea Blue Economic Passage (the so-called Portuguese-speaking Maritime Silk Road); (3) education for innovation, human exchange, international cooperation, and the de-carbonization of the economy; (4) and the transformation of the Macau Forum for Cooperation between China and the Portuguese-speaking Countries (Forum Macau) into a quasi-intergovernmental agency.

(1) The enablement of the development of the concept of blue partnership as a comprehensive economy concept – the idea of a partnership in the context of maritime cooperation in a sustainable manner, offers an array of economic cooperation opportunities. The China Ocean Economic Development Index (OEDI) shows an overall steady upward trend during the past decade; the index, which rose from 100.0 (2010) to 134.3 (2019), is mainly used to measure three aspects – marine economic development level, economic efficiency, and economic potential. China has a long experience in marine economics and it has an extraordinary ability to adapt its industry. The Portuguese-speaking Countries (PSC) are all costal nations, in which marine economy has received considerable political attention. Furthermore, the blue partnership concept offers the flexibility and the comprehensiveness that both sides are looking for in the context of their domestic markets. This is a decisive aspect of the Portuguese-speaking islands and states’ developing plans in the context of economic sustainability.

(2) Support to the extension of the Portuguese-speaking Maritime Silk Road – the development of the maritime component of the Belt and Road Initiative, is the most attractive aspect of the bilateral cooperation between China and the PSC. The vision, associated to the contributing role of the PSC, needs to be associated to the integration of key infrastructure for the purpose of enhancing economies of scale, promoting regional economic integration, adding value to supply chains and trade facilitation, and using mechanisms such as Free Trade Areas (FTA) or Special Economic Zones (SEZ). The security of the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) and the financial mechanisms to support an uninterrupted flow of fright at affordable prices are decisive for the transformation of the Lusophone maritime leg of the Belt and Road Initiative into a sustainable economic corridor.

3) Education for innovation, human exchange, international cooperation, and the de-carbonization of the economy. Education structures and programs must be set in line with the economic objectives, adopting a tandem perspective: educating to promote technical and economic sustainable advancement, as well as educating to promote human bonds and interculturalism. Education for people-to-people cooperation in light of interculturalism is as decisive as innovation for economics. Cultural literacy must be successful to promote long-lasting business relations.

(4) The transformation of the Macau Forum for Cooperation between China and the Portuguese-speaking Countries into a quasi-intergovernmental agency. The establishment of the Forum Macau in 2003 was a creative political initiative to support the national Chinese policies in the context of development and multilateralism. In 2018, the Forum Macau completed its initial intention to gather all the PSC, with the exception of Equatorial Guinea. The debate on the transformation of this successful and relevant institution is now on the table, but the ball is in the Chinese court. The current model of a national organization participated internationally, which is budgeted entirely by China, appears to be exhausted. The lessons learned from the cooperation models advanced by China seem to suggest three major transformations: (1) to extend its purpose to promote cultural bonds, to support common education, and to advance and facilitate business and trade; (2) to develop a common operating and investment budget; (3) to transform its status and structure into a quasi-intergovernmental agency created by a multilateral agreement, and to enjoy operational and budgetary autonomy under common political control, capable of triggering stronger involvement by all participants.

In the next decade, Macau has a unique opportunity to deliver a significant contribution to China’s vision. The Maritime leg of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Greater Bay Area are opportunities to be committed to a full-steam political will, transforming the idea of platform from a buzzword into the lighthouse of an enduring and prestigious economic strategy, a strategy connecting education for interculturalism to the development of key infrastructure for trade and business advancement.