Research supervisor. Ph.D. in Communication Sciences, BA in International Journalism, Professor at the University of Porto (Portugal)
Ph.D. in International Economics, BA in Economics, Professor at the University of Porto (Portugal), researcher at the University of Lisbon (Portugal) Centre for African and Development Studies
Final-year student at the Beijing Normal University Business School (China) / International Economics and Trade
This article addresses the role of digital public / economic diplomacy, as part of bilateral relations between the European Union and Macao (China), bearing in mind the specificities of this Special Administrative Region and most notably the European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macao. From a geopolitical and geoeconomic standpoint, the research also concerns Macao’s affirmation, in domestic and international terms, while serving as a meeting point for Portuguese-speaking countries and integrating the Chinese government’s project known as the Greater Bay Area. Several exclusive interviews with experts enable furthering the topic of this piece with original analyses.
Keywords: China; digital public diplomacy; economic diplomacy; European Union; Macao.
Figure 1: West meets East throughout History.
(This article results from research on the importance of digital public / economic diplomacy, within the context of bilateral relations between the European Union (EU) and Macao (China), based on webgraphic research and exclusive interviews with several experts.).
Macao is a country located on the south-eastern coast of China, along the west bank of the Pearl River estuary. It covers a total area of 32.9 km², comprising the Macao peninsula as well as two outlying islands, namely Taipa and Coloane, and it has a total coastline of 41 km. Its official languages are Chinese and Portuguese, with Cantonese being used in daily life, even though English is also widely used in business, tourism, and commercial sectors (Macao Business Environment).
Like Hong Kong, Macao is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China, i.e., a partially-administrated territory, with a special status since December 20, 1999. Macao’s status since reverting to Chinese sovereignty is outlined in the Sino-Portuguese Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. Under the concept of “one country, two systems” articulated in these documents, Macao enjoys a high degree of autonomy in economic matters, and it has its own legislation (Chinese-influenced) and tax system, as well as an independent currency, called Pataca (MOP) (2020 Investment Climate Statements: Macau).
In the fourth quarter of 2020, the total population of Macao was 683,100 (Macao Business Environment), and the territory is the world´s most densely populated area, with 21,645 people per km² (Worldometer).
According to the Macao SAR Government Portal, in 2020, Macao’s real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 194.398 billion MOP and the GDP per capita was 285,314 MOP (35,714 USD), the third highest globally in 2019 (IMF Country Staff Reports).
After five centuries under Portuguese rule, Macao returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1999, and since then this small open economy has grown significantly. In 2002, the Government of Macao ended a long-standing gaming monopoly, and the liberalization of the gaming sector encouraged substantial U.S. investment in casinos and hotels in the SAR, which became the biggest gaming center in the world (2020 Investment Climate Statements: Macau).
According to Macao in Figures 2020, gross gaming revenue reached 293.312 billion MOP in 2019, and gaming activities accounted for 50% of GDP. Regarding the workforce, 25% were employed in the recreational, cultural and gaming industry, and the population working in hotels and restaurants accounts for 14.5%.
As the casino sector represents over 70% of Macao's tax revenue, the SAR government is trying to diversify the economy and reduce its dependence on the gambling industry. Thus, Macao seeks to become a world tourism and leisure center, as well as to establish a commercial and trade cooperation service platform between Mainland China and Portuguese-speaking countries, in the context of its first Five-Year (2016-2020) Development Plan (2020 Investment Climate Statements: Macau).
The Chinese Central Government’s Belt and Road Initiative, launched in 2013 as a transcontinental investment program in infrastructure, connecting East Asia to Europe, is particularly relevant as it will expand China’s economic and political influence, thereby providing new opportunities for the economic transformation and industrial diversification of Macao’s territory (Belt and Road Initiative).
Noteworthy in this context is the Greater Bay Area, comprising the two SAR of Hong Kong and Macao and nine cities in mainland China, whose objectives include facilitating integration within the region and promoting coordinated regional economic development (Greater Bay Area).
The EU’s common foreign and security policy is substantiated in respect for international rules and in diplomacy (Foreign and Security Policy). Regarding this latter aspect, we should point out the European External Action Service (EEAS), with a network of over 140 delegations and offices worldwide, fostering and upholding EU values (Foreign and Security Policy). With its headquarters in Brussels, the EEAS is tasked with supporting the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, managing diplomatic relations with countries outside the EU, and collaborating with the diplomatic services of EU member-states, of other world powers and of the United Nations (European External Action Service).
The digital aspect of EU public / economic diplomacy with regard to Macao (China) is developed through, among others, the following means:
-the institutional Internet site of the European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macao - https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/hong-kong_en ;
-social media, namely Facebook and Twitter - https://www.facebook.com/EUOfficeHongKongMacao/ / https://twitter.com/EUinHKandMO?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor ;
-direct emails (“Exclusive Interview with Paul-François Polidori” March 31, 2021).
Regarding the said diplomatic sphere, a few Macanese / European-Macanese examples can also be provided:
-Macao Trade and Investment Promotion Institute - http://www.ipim.gov.mo/survey/en/index.php ;
-Macau European Chamber of Commerce - https://www.eurocham.org.mo/ ;
-Macao Economic & Trade Office to the EU - https://www.macao-eu.be/
Figure 2: President Xi Jinping and Macao SAR Chief Executive, Ho Iat Seng:
From China to the world via the Internet.
Digital Public / Economic Diplomacy
Several experts, such as Carmen Amado Mendes (President of the Macau Scientific and Cultural Centre / Portugal), Edmund Sheng (University of Macau Program Coordinator of Master of Arts in European Studies / China) and Paul-François Polidori (Information and Communication Officer / European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macao), feel that, as part of cooperation between the European Union (EU) and Macao (China), digital public diplomacy, chiefly within the sphere of economics, is highly important (“Exclusive Interview with Carmen Amado Mendes” February 17, 2021 / “Exclusive Interview with Edmund Sheng” February 21, 2021 / “Exclusive Interview with Paul-François Polidori” March 31, 2021). According to Sheng, this importance grows with the situation involving the COVID-19 pandemic (“Exclusive Interview with Edmund Sheng” February 21, 2021). This scholar points out that digital public / economic diplomacy is more effective than its traditional counterpart, given that it manages to attain the same goals, while saving travel time and expenses (“Exclusive Interview with Edmund Sheng” February 21, 2021). Online meetings also coincide with concerns about protection of environment (“Exclusive Interview with Edmund Sheng” February 21, 2021). Within the context of Macao, in the 11th International Infrastructure Investment and Construction Forum, that was held in 2020, a few companies chose cloud signing over the traditional offline signing (“Exclusive Interview with Edmund Sheng” February 21, 2021).
However, both Polidori and Professor Suet Yi Lai (Guangdong University of Foreign Studies / China) continue to greatly value traditional diplomacy, that is face-to-face contacts, as irreplaceable (“Exclusive Interview with Paul-François Polidori” March 31, 2021 / “Exclusive Interview with Suet Yi Lai” February 16, 2021).
To Sheng, economic diplomacy, geared toward cooperation between Macao and the EU, already comprises some positive aspects, such as the Macao Trade and Investment Promotion Institute, Forum Macao, tourism forums, trade fairs, expo exhibitions, and sale carnivals (“Exclusive Interview with Edmund Sheng” February 21, 2021). Professor Edmund Sheng explains that, while many of the previously stated aspects are not directly aimed at the EU, it is a significant participant in the cooperation platforms created (“Exclusive Interview with Edmund Sheng” February 21, 2021).
While looking at Macao-EU bilateral relations, Sheng states that the Chinese side is currently more active toward developing cooperation (“Exclusive Interview with Edmund Sheng” February 21, 2021). To bolster this assertion, this expert stresses the fact that, while Macao and Hong Kong have their own Economic and Trade Offices in the EU (Brussels), the opposite does not occur, as the European Office to Hong Kong and Macao is headquartered in Hong Kong (“Exclusive Interview with Edmund Sheng” February 21, 2021). To a great extent this is due to Macao’s relatively low economic and demographic importance, but on the other hand, even compared to Hong Kong, Macao is more passive and invisible in its foreign relations (“Exclusive Interview with Edmund Sheng” February 21, 2021).
José Sales Marques, President of the Macao Institute of European Studies, is vehemently critical of the EU’s lesser emphasis on Macao, compared to Hong Kong, and states that the EU’s current institutional presence in Macao is irrelevant with regard to public / economic diplomacy (“Exclusive Interview with José Sales Marques” March 16, 2021).
In the opinion of Carlos Duque Simões, President of the Macau European Chamber of Commerce, the EU’s public / economic diplomacy, via the Internet, has a diminished impact on Macanese soil. For this expert, this situation is due to the fact that the EU’s official representation is based in Hong Kong, but also because, in China, the Internet is dominated by different platforms, most notably WeChat, requiring a distinct presence and in Chinese (“Exclusive Interview with Carlos Duque Simões” March 22, 2021).
From the viewpoint of Maria Carolina Lousinha (Director of the Portuguese Trade & Investment Agency - Macao and Hong Kong Counselor for Economic and Commercial Affairs - Consulate General of Portugal in Macao and Hong Kong), broadly speaking, the digital platforms of the EU Office to Hong Kong and Macao, such as the website and social media, are very active as concerns disseminating useful information to entrepreneurs with interest either in the special administrative regions or in the EU (“Exclusive Interview with Maria Carolina Lousinha” March 17, 2021). This diplomat highlights that Portugal is the only EU member-state with a Consulate and economic / trade representation in Macao.
Regarding the kind of discourse, the European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macao uses its website to divulge official statements and events, whereas social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, allow for audiences’ more informal engagement (“Exclusive Interview with Paul-François Polidori” March 31, 2021).
In concrete terms, and by way of example, public diplomacy includes public presentations on the historic ties between the EU and Macao, events linked to tourism, concerts, film screenings and art exhibits (“Exclusive Interview with Paul-François Polidori” March 31, 2021). Regarding the target audience, “EU events and activities are wide-ranging and usually organised in cooperation with local stakeholders on specific issues. Each event has a specific audience and takes into account local needs and circumstances to ensure that the EU provides added value.” (“Exclusive Interview with Paul-François Polidori” March 31, 2021)”.
Macao’s cultural and political specificities
Carmen Amado Mendes and Lai believe that Macao’s cultural and political specificities should be taken into account by anyone wishing to carry on public diplomacy activities in this special administrative region (“Exclusive Interview with Carmen Amado Mendes” February 17, 2021 / “Exclusive Interview with Suet Yi Lai” February 16, 2021). Edmund Sheng points out the following: “The Guanxi (social networks and relations of family, hierarchical and friendly relationships in Chinese society) network is an important factor and should be taken into consideration. In East Asia society, government is an important actor, player, and stakeholder in society and everyday life.” (“Exclusive Interview with Edmund Sheng” February 21, 2021). Also according to this expert, “Western politicians, company executives, or any other who want to undertake diplomacy and cooperation in Macau must understand such traditional Chinese logic and learn how to maintain good relations with government and other institutions.” (“Exclusive Interview with Edmund Sheng” February 21, 2021).
With a view to adapting to the Macanese context, the European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macao acts as follows: “Events organised by the EU are conducted in cooperation with local counterparts in order to make it as relevant and targeted as possible to the specific audience and are usually framed on our historical relation with Macao” (“Exclusive Interview with Paul-François Polidori” March 31, 2021).
Macao and the Greater Bay Area
Professor Sheng admits that various situations can appreciate Macao: the discovery of this Special Administrative Region by the EU and by Portuguese-speaking countries, as a gateway to cooperation with China, within the sphere of Forum Macao (Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, China, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, São Tomé and Príncipe), the growing importance attributed by the Chinese Government to Macanese soil, and Macao’s role in the Belt and Road Initiative and in the Greater Bay Area (GBA). (“Exclusive Interview with Edmund Sheng” February 21, 2021). The latter includes Dongguan, Foshan, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Huizhou, Jiangmen, Macao, Shenzhen, Zhaoqing, Zhongshan and Zhuhai, in the province of Guangdong, and its importance to Portugal and to the EU overall, has been disseminated by China over the Internet (“Exclusive Interview with Carlos Duque Simões” March 22, 2021 / “Exclusive Interview with Maria Carolina Lousinha” March 17, 2021). In this Chinese regional development project, it is hoped that Macao will become a world tourism and leisure center, a meeting point for Portuguese-speaking countries and an international cultural exchange space (“Exclusive Interview with Maria Carolina Lousinha” March 17, 2021).
Paul-François Polidori raises some doubts in this regard: “The GBA could be a source of great economic and business opportunities, including for European companies. Industries consulted still have questions over how to bring together three different economic, legal, tax and customs systems, so more awareness and information is helpful.” (“Exclusive Interview with Paul-François Polidori” March 31, 2021).
Sheng adds that, in the context of post-COVID-19 pandemic period, with China rapidly recovering its economic growth and global power continuing to shift from West to East, the relations between Macao and the EU will attain a higher level than previously (“Exclusive Interview with Edmund Sheng” February 21, 2021). Professor Suet Yi Lai feels that Macao wants to show Beijing that it is relevant within the framework of Sino-European relations (“«Exclusive Interview with Suet Yi Lai” February 16, 2021). In Lai’s opinion, the Chinese Government and large companies still have to improve the way they develop public diplomacy to their advantage (“Exclusive Interview with Suet Yi Lai” February 16, 2021).
This research shows that public and economic diplomacy through digital channels is important with regard to bilateral relations between the EU and Macao (China). At the same time, this importance increases with the physical lockdown imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, as the Internet serves to accurately convey the message to certain target audiences. However, traditional diplomacy, that is face-to-face, remains relevant, within the contexts where it is deemed to be possible and appropriate.
Concerning digital public / economic diplomacy, several Macanese entities comprise a noteworthy dynamic. With regard to the same diplomatic field, when comparing the involvement of the European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macao in both Special Administrative Regions, experts point to an imbalance favorable to Hong Kong, as the latter currently possesses a political and economic dimension higher than Macao. In this context, it can be highlighted that Portugal is the only EU member-state with a Consulate and an economic / trade representation on Macao, maintaining deep, secular historic ties to this Chinese territory.
The efficiency of public diplomacy, regarding Macao, goes, inter alia, by way of considering the Macanese political and cultural specificity, such as the role of the Government and the Guanxi (social and family networks).
Macao’s valorization is related to multiple factors, namely, for instance, the ability to assert itself as a meeting point for Portuguese-speaking countries, particularly with Forum Macao, as well as its positive integration in the GBA. History continues…
Belt and Road Initiative. Retrieved 08.02.2021 from https://www.beltroad-initiative.com/belt-and-road/
European External Action Service. Retrieved 30.1.2021 from https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/institutions-bodies/eeas_en
Foreign and Security Policy. Retrieved 30.1.2021 from https://europa.eu/european-union/topics/foreign-security-policy_en
Greater Bay Area. Retrieved 08.02.2021 from https://www.bayarea.gov.hk/en/home/index.html
IMF Country Staff Reports. Retrieved 01.02.2021 from https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/CR/Issues/2019/05/06/Peoples-Republic-of-China-Macao-Special-Administrative-Region-2019-Article-IV-Consultation-46867
2020 Investment Climate Statements: Macau.Retrieved 08.02.2021 from https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-investment-climate-statements/macau/
Macao Business Environment.Retrieved 01.02.2021 from https://www.ipim.gov.mo/en/business-investment/macao-business-environment/
Macao in Figures 2020. Retrieved 08.02.2021 from https://www.dsec.gov.mo/en-US/Home/Publication/MacaoInFigures
Macao SAR Government Portal: Statistics.Retrieved 02.02.2021 from https://www.gov.mo/en/content/statistics/
Worldometer.Retrieved 06.04.2021 from https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/china-macao-sar-population/
“Exclusive Interview with Carlos Duque Simões” March 22, 2021.
“Exclusive Interview with Carmen Amado Mendes” February 17, 2021.
“Exclusive Interview with Edmund Sheng” February 21, 2021.
“Exclusive Interview with José Sales Marques” March 16, 2021.
“Exclusive Interview with Maria Carolina Lousinha” March 17, 2021.
“Exclusive Interview with Paul-François Polidori” March 31, 2021.
“Exclusive Interview with Suet Yi Lai” February 16, 2021.
Figure 1 by: Jorge Marinho
Figure 2 (video): President Xi Jinping Hears Work Report from Macao SAR Chief Executive. Retrieved 19.4.2021 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWWHjvWp6TE
Published by Marinho Media Analysis / April 19, 2021
A short version of this article was also published in the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy (CPD) Blog / United States of America / May 25, 2021