China-CPLP relations bolster ties between Lusophone states, says Yale University study

26 June 2006

Beijing, China, 26 June – Besides strengthening two-way relations between its members and China, the Macau Forum is also reinforcing the links between the members of the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries (CPLP), according to a study published by the prestigious Yale University.

“With the old Portuguese enclave of Macau acting as a platform, China organized a series of initiatives that not only bring the Lusophone nations closer to each other, but also to China”, said analysts Loro Horta and Ian Storey in an article on the “Trade and Cooperation Accord of 2003 between China and the CPLP”, published by the Center of Studies on Globalization at the American university.

Following a Beijing government initiative in 2003, China and the CPLP countries created the Macau Forum under the official designation of the Forum for Economic and Commercial Cooperation Between China and the Portuguese-language Countries, whose organization falls to the government of the Macau Special Administrative Region.

“The Chinese methods are shrewd and demonstrate the increasing sophistication of Beijing’s diplomacy. In contrast to other large countries that maintain close ties with specific members of the CPLP, but have little or no interaction with other members of the bloc, China does not see its relations with CPLP countries as bilateral, but rather group ones”, say the analysts.

Ian Storey is a researcher and teacher at the Center for Asia-Pacific Security Studies in Honolulu, while Lora Horta, is a researcher at the Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies at Nanyang University, Singapore. He is also the son of José Ramos Horta, foreign minister of Timor-Leste, a member of the CPLP.

Storey and Horta consider that Beijing’s strategy of emphasizing its interests with the CPLP has been very successful, with the assistance in the diplomatic field of “an impressive number of diplomats who speak Portuguese, many of whom have been posted for long periods in Lusophone states.”

The search for alternative oil sources to secure supply of fuel essential for the rapid economic growth of China is the main aim, say the analysts, of the relations between China and the Portuguese-speaking community of 230 million people spread across the world in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal and Timor-Leste.

Sao Tome and Principe, also a CPLP member, does not have diplomatic relations with China due to its recognition of Taipei (Taiwan), an island with its own government since 1949 and which Beijing considers to be a breakaway province that must be reunited with the rest of China at all cost.

“Over 60 percent of crude imports come from the Middle East and Beijing considers this dependency to be a strategic vulnerability due to the continuing political instability and military influence of the United States in the region. For this reason China has tried to diversify its energy imports from traditional sources in the Persian Gulf to other areas, including CPLP states such as Angola, Brazil, Mozambique and Timor-Leste”, the analysts say.

Other driving forces in China’s cooperation with the CPLP are Beijing’s desire to exploit “the abundant natural resources of the CPLP countries to feed frenetic Chinese economic growth” and the recognition by China that “230 million people are an enormous market for Chinese goods.”

On the diplomatic front, Storey and Horta say the Lusophone world is a diplomatic community that Beijing wants to exploit lessen the international political influence of Taipei.

To prevent Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde “turning towards Taipei, as Sao Tome did in 2002”, Beijing has kept a diplomatic presence in these countries, note the analysts, despite “chronic instability” in Guinea-Bissau and the “small size and lack of natural resources” of Cape Verde.

An example the two authors give on the Chinese support for the CPLP was the decision by Beijing last May to grant Bissau a credit of US$ 1 million to help finance the hosting of the CPLP leaders’ summit later this year.

“The CPLP is rarely a priority in global politics, but contrary to conventional thinking China has made diligent diplomatic effort with the organization in anticipation of benefits such as energy sources and markets for Chinese goods, conclude Storey and Horta (macauhub)