Subject: SCMP: Focus: Gusmao Fails To Impress in Macau

South China Morning Post November 3, 2001


Gusmao fails to impress


Last weekend's visit by East Timor's immensely likeable pro-independence leader Jose Alexandre - "Xanana" - Gusmao was strong on symbolism but weak on specifics. Mr Gusmao, who spent four days in Macau at the invitation of the local branch of the Forum of Portuguese-speaking Entrepreneurs, had evidently not done his homework.

His two-hour briefing at the sixth Macau International Fair last Saturday on investment opportunities in his impoverished homeland turned out to be a motley assortment of hackneyed platitudes, such as "there can be no development without democracy and no democracy without stability" and that it was "quite difficult to define priorities because everything has priority".

The presentation, which provided its audience with hardly any concrete information, was hampered by a shockingly deficient Portuguese-Chinese translation service.

The 55-year-old former guerilla leader, who was once branded a terrorist by pro-Jakarta analysts in the West, was also ill-prepared when he spoke at the Macau Polytechnic about East Timor's experience in international co-operation. The half-hour speech was little more than an anecdotal hotchpotch of assertions, such as that Portugal was East Timor's "eternal partner" and that Macau constituted its "bridge" for relations with China.

Mr Gusmao, a one-time journalist and prolific poet and photographer, is widely tipped to become East Timor's second president when it gains statehood next year.

Its first president, Francisco Xavier do Amaral, ruled for a mere 10 days until Indonesia invaded on December 7, 1975. This was after Portugal had recklessly abandoned its abjectly underdeveloped colony in the midst of a civil war between rival indigenous forces.

Macau Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah promised Mr Gusmao during a luncheon last Monday that the Macau Government's Investment and Trade Promotion Institute would despatch a high-powered business delegation to East Timor next year. Economic and cultural relations between the two sides have great potential.

The two territories share a common history as former Portuguese colonies that once maintained close commercial, cultural and institutional ties. Both use Portuguese as one of their official languages, and there are scores of businessmen, public servants, lawyers and other professionals in Macau who have first-hand experience in East Timor, which is currently under a transitional administration of the United Nations.

Following Indonesia's scorched-earth withdrawal in 1999, the 19,000-square-kilometre territory of about 800,000 extremely poor inhabitants needs to be reconstructed from scratch.

Mr Gusmao was right when he said his country could "learn a lot" from Macau's experience in developing a free-market economy in a multi-cultural environment.

The Macau Government has said it is ready to train East Timorese public servants and offer students scholarships at local universities. All will depend on political developments in East Timor, which has a tragic history of tribal strife.

Mr Gusmao, who once said he preferred cultivating pumpkins to being in politics, is cut out to become a great ceremonial president of the new millennium's first new nation, which will officially be known by its native name, Timor Lorosae (Timor of the Rising Sun).

He should take a lesson from his visit and be wise enough to leave the nitty-gritty of executive politics to those used to doing their daily homework.

Harald Bruning ( is the Post's Macau correspondent.

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