China’s Trade with Portuguese-speaking Countries Tops US$100-billion

28 October 2021 Leighton G. Luke, Research Manager, Indo-Pacific Research Programme

China’s goods trade with the Portuguese-speaking countries, many of which supply the raw materials that have powered China’s own economic transformation, continues to grow, aided by the status of Macao as a Portuguese-speaking Special Administrative Region.

 

Background

China’s goods trade with the Portuguese-speaking countries continues to grow, reaching US$109.475 billion in the January to July 2021 period, according to figures released by the Chinese General Administration of Customs and reported by Forum Macao. That figure is an increase of just under 41 per cent over the same period in 2020. The Indo-Pacific states of Timor-Leste and Mozambique both increased their trade with China by 45.83% and 50.63%, respectively.

Comment

The trading relationships of the eight independent Portuguese-speaking countries (Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe, and Timor-Leste) are, unsurprisingly, dominated by Brazilian exports of soy beans, crude petroleum and iron ore.

While the overall relationship is very much in favour of the Lusophone countries, with China’s goods imports from those countries collectively worth US$76.06 billion, compared to a total value of US$33.41 billion for China’s exports to those countries, only Brazil and Angola enjoy a trade surplus with China. For the remainder, the reverse is true, with the main exports – at least in the case of the developing economies – being raw materials and primary products.

China has been very successful in leveraging Macao’s status as a Portuguese-speaking territory. Although not a member of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, the Macau Special Administrative Region has two official languages: Cantonese and Portuguese.

Macao, and China’s relationships with the Portuguese-speaking countries have benefited from the decision of the Chinese authorities, at the time of the 1999 handover under the “One Country, Two Systems” regime, to retain and encourage the use of Portuguese as an official language in the Macau SAR.

The Macanese and Chinese Governments have both supported the development of such “soft power” initiatives as the expansion of the network of Confucius Institutes and China Cultural Centres, the appointment of former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano as president of the International Consultative Committee of the China-Africa Institute, and Forum Macao (officially known as the Forum for Economic and Trade Co-operation between China and Portuguese-speaking Countries), together with a number of other Beijing-endorsed institutes similarly intended to boost China’s trade with the Lusophone world, much of which is the source of the raw materials that have powered the transformation of China’s own economy.

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