Cultural links add vitality to relationship

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 June, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 June, 2001, 12:00am

From an economic point of view, Portugal's future is linked with Europe, where the bulk of its exports are headed, but the economic and cultural relationship with Asia is no less important, Consul-General of Portugal, Dr Emidio da Veiga Domingos, says.

Portugal's links with Hong Kong go back more than 150 years. 'It is said that in 1848, there were about 300 Portuguese in Hong Kong, and in 1860 the number increased to 800.'

Today, there are more than 50,000 people of Portuguese nationality, while Portuguese with European roots add up to around 1,000. This community, especially its professionals, have made a valuable contribution to Hong Kong in many spheres, he says.

Some have held important office in the legislature, the judiciary, civil service, public sector bodies, social and cultural fields and the private sector.

'Some of the Portuguese pioneers in the agriculture and botanical fields created Club Lusitano in 1865,' Dr Veiga Domingos said. 'The first honorary consulate was established in Hong Kong in 1897.'

Portugal's relationship with Macau, however, goes back four centuries. 'Chinese authorities sanctioned a Portuguese settlement in Macau in 1557,' he said.

Bilateral relations between Portugal and Hong Kong have led to stronger co-operation. Last month, Portugal's Foreign Minister, Jaime Gama, and Secretary for Security, Regina Ip Lau Suk- yee, signed an important agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, Surrender of Fugitive Offenders, and Transfer of Sentenced Persons, Dr Veiga Domingos said. An air services agreement is being negotiated.

To further enhance understanding and co-operation the University of Hong Kong offers degree-level Portuguese language programmes.

The Portuguese Institute of the Orient, a division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, provides scholarships for the study of language and culture, and provides courses in China, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and India, according to Alexandrina Farinha, administrative officer in the consulate's cultural section. This week, City University too started offering language and culture courses.

Bilateral trade, meanwhile, has expanded. Exports to Hong Kong increased 49 per cent to US$63 million last year, according to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. Hong Kong's exports, however, dropped 3 per cent to US$144 million. Total trade was up 8 per cent to US$207 million.

Trade is important, but Dr Veiga Domingos reminds us that Portugal's cultural heritage has helped raise Portugal's profile. Architectural adornments such as the eye-catching azulejos (painted tiles), which date back to the time of the Moors who crafted them, are familiar to many in Asia. The decorative blue and white murals take their name from an Arab word 'al zuleiq'.

The Portuguese passed down their religion and religious symbols in Asia, along with the cuisine, while taking back highly valued spices and precious stones, among other things. Churches and cathedrals also became monuments to the Portuguese architectural heritage and even influenced builders in the colonies.

Those who want to experience that heritage can visit Porto. One of Portugal's most appealing cities, it is where the famous Port wines originate.

Porto and Rotterdam in the Netherlands were designated European cultural capitals this year.

Graphic: POR08gsp