AS the signing ceremony of the joint agreement transferring the sovereignty of Macau between Portugal and Mainland China marks its 30th anniversary today, veterans still believe the agreement is imperfect due to the lack of preparation by the then Portuguese Government and lack of participation by Macau residents.
Signed on April 13, 1987 by the then Portuguese Prime Minister Cavaco Silva and his Mainland China counterpart Zhao Ziyang, the joint declaration defined Macau as a ‘Chinese territory under Portuguese administration’ and confirmed the official transfer of sovereignty on December 20, 1999. The declaration guaranteed the autonomy of the MSAR Government under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ policy, assuring the independence of Macau’s defined social, legislative and local policies until 2049.
Speaking to news agency Lusa, Portugal’s former Prime Minister and President, Cavaco Silva, considered that “complex and delicate” negotiations between the two governments had ended up in a “good agreement” that guaranteed the stability and development of Macau, seeing the agreement as a stepping stone for the improvement of Sino-Luso relations.
A reporter for local broadcaster TDM at that time, local lawyer Mario Cardoso, followed all negotiation meetings for the agreement in Beijing since the start in June, 1986. He recalled to Business Daily that the Portuguese delegation “wasn’t very comfortable” in its position.
“In my view, the Portuguese side was ill prepared,” he said. “The chief of the Delegation, Rui Medina, told reporters at that time he had other issues to take care of as an ambassador in New York so he wasn’t able to fully dedicate himself to the negotiations”.
Despite the negotiations being wrapped up “relatively fast” – in some 9 months – the lawyer considers that the then Portuguese Government’s “poor organisation and strategy” affected the negotiations.
According to Mr. Cardoso, the largest disagreement between the two countries at that time was the official handover date – the Portuguese authorities wanted to delay the date, while former Chinese supremo Deng Xiaoping had officially declared that he wanted it to take place before 2000.
What is omitted
This view is echoed by former legislator Jorge Fão, who perceives the agreement was concluded swiftly because of the lack of preparation by the Portuguese Government, which led to “many concessions” being made to Mainland China.
“Portugal’s Prime Minister Cavaco Silva worked a lot for it but I don’t believe he had ever consulted anyone from Macau. The agreement was discussed by Portugal’s ambassadors and consultants but local residents didn’t have a say… The only Macau residents present were the translators,” he said.
One of the major omissions in the agreement, in the ex-legislator’s view, was the absence of any reference to the payment of pensions for Macau locals working for the Portuguese Administration at that time, although the Chinese Government later included an annex in the agreement that public servants would be entitled to enjoy a pension when they retired after the handover – but not before.
According to the former legislator, this issue wasn’t “even mentioned by Portuguese authorities” with the country having a record of not “paying any pensions for public employees in its former colonies”.
“To protect the rights of public employees, I helped found the Macau Civil Servant’s Association (ATFPM) in 1987 (…) Even so, only in the 1990’s did the Portuguese Government agree to pay pensions for public employees retiring before the handover after we made a lot of noise and the Portuguese Government [managed to] join the European Union so that they could balance their budget,” he said.
According to Fão, there are currently around 2,000 former Macau public employees still receiving pensions from the Portuguese Government, including the spouses of deceased former public employees.
José Sales Marques, an official for the Macau Government at that time and now President of the Institute of European Studies of Macau, agrees that the participation of locals in discussions was “very reduced,” although he added that the declaration was an “important step” for future negotiations between the two nations on sobering transfer.
For the former government official, the discussions went “smoothly” despite some contentious issues such as whether the local Chinese residents with Portuguese passports should keep their nationality, although an addendum was added later to assure their Portuguese nationality would be maintained after the handover.
Good in hindsight
Nevertheless, in general, the interviewees all considered that the agreement ended up improving relations between the two countries, while its benefits to the city’s economic development is undeniable.
For Mr. Marques and Mr. Cardoso, the agreement was not the “best possible” for the MSAR at that time, but they agree that the handover “ended up being a good deal,” coupled with the definition of the Basic law in 1993.
“The city is known worldwide,” Mr. Fão concluded. “The city bloomed and is now one of the richest territories in the world, something no-one expected”.