At the tail end of his state visit to China to attend the Second Belt and Road Forum, Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa made time for a brief, roughly day-long stop in Macao before making the trip back home. The last time he visited the city was three decades ago.
During his whirlwind trip, the president met with both local and Portuguese authorities and spoke to members of the community. At a welcoming ceremony held at the official residence of the Portuguese consul-general, Rebelo de Sousa pointed out that, until 1999, Macao was regarded as a Chinese territory under Portuguese administration, not as a Portuguese colony. “Macao is different,” he remarked. “It has always been different from Portugal.”
He described this difference as a result of “a mix of cultures, civilisations, religions, and people” in the city. The president said that “the friendship and brotherhood that has united the Portuguese and the Chinese for the past 500 years started precisely in Macao,” and has been fortified through Macao over the years.
The president said that, although many things have changed over the last five centuries, including government and political systems, these changes haven’t affected the relationship because what really matters are “the links between people.”
Rebelo de Sousa also highlighted the importance of the Portuguese community, language, and culture. This can be seen in the teaching and learning of the Portuguese language, he said, noting that nowadays, “there are many more people learning Portuguese in Macao than half a century ago.”
The president is looking forward to the further deepening of cooperation between Portugal and Macao in a wide range of areas such as Portuguese language teaching, trade, investments, tourism, science and technology, and higher education.
Enriching education from the ground up
“I was very happy when I heard the Chief Executive [Chui Sai On] announce that the Macao government will support a new branch of the Macau Portuguese School [EPM]. It is an old ambition of all the people involved,” the president remarked. The school had been under some pressure to expand as it began reaching full capacity over the last few years.
Slated to start this year, the long-awaited expansion represents a “great gift” from the Macao government led by Chief Executive Chui and will be located on one of the land plots of the new landfills.
Chui said in an official statement that he “[believes] that this will not only be a way to consolidate the development of Portuguese language and culture, but also a way to express the preliminary consensus [reached] on the plan to be followed in future.”
A brief visit to EPM was also on the president’s itinerary for Macao. At the school, pupils gave various performances to welcome the president, such as dancing, singing, and a play. Rebelo de Sousa then delivered a speech and presented an award to the winning team of a football competition.
The football team captain, surnamed Leong, told The Macao Post Daily that “it was a rare opportunity for him to meet the Portuguese president and have a valuable experience.”
A walk through old Macao
After the school visit, Rebelo de Sousa continued with his round of visits in the city.
During a walking tour through the Historic Centre of Macao where he visited the Holy House of Mercy and strolled from Largo do Senado to the Ruins of St Paul’s with Secretary of Social Affairs and Culture Alexis Tam Chon Weng, Rebelo de Sousa tried some Macao-style egg tarts and Chinese tea and greeted fellow passersby.
The president noted that the celebrations of the 20th anniversary at the end of the year “could be a good reason” to return, as it is a significant occasion at which both the People’s Republic of China and Portugal should naturally be represented officially at the highest level, “the same way as it was 20 years ago [during the handover].”
Rebelo de Sousa also visited the building of the Portuguese Consulate General which houses IPOR (Instituto Portugués do Oriente), where he took in a Shan Shui Chinese painting exhibition called “Eternal Lotus” and met the artist, Ieong Tai Meng.
On a political level
During this short visit, Macao Chief Executive Chui Sai On thanked the Portuguese president for Portugal’s support of and participation in the Belt and Road Initiative, adding that he was confident that Portugal would become the European pivot of said initiative.
He also vowed that Macao would actively assist companies from the Portuguese-speaking world in selling their products and services in the Greater Bay Area, another major initiative rolled out by Beijing last year.
At the end of the trip, Rebelo de Sousa crossed the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macao Bridge en route to the Hong Kong International Airport where he took a flight home.
The Portuguese president described his whirlwind visit to Macao simply, calling it “unforgettable.”
Text Mariana César de Sá
Photos Cheong Kamka and Lusa News Agency