China model in crisis; Iran needs watching - president
With Olena Zelenksa in Belém last night. Image: Manuel de Almeida/ Lusa

China model in crisis; Iran needs watching – president

Marcelo addresses National Defence Institute before an evening meeting with Ukraine’s first lady

Portugal’s president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa opened the academic year of the National Defence Institute (IDN) with an overview of much that is going wrong in the world.

“A Chinese model in crisis”, an Iran that needs “redoubled attention”, democracies under pressure everywhere – indeed “ “fewer democracies in the world than ten, twenty years ago”.

It was a speech that touched on a bit of everything assailing us through the media everyday, with the message that “the European Union will remain united, be lucid, preserve the essential link to the most powerful transatlantic ally, and be able to adapt to new realities” without forgetting the rest of the world.

Lusa ticks off the basics: “Iran is experiencing a process of anti-theocratic revolt based on the defence of the rights of ethnic minorities originating outside the major cities, with a fundamental role for women and young people, which needs redoubled, well-informed attention.” 

As for China, the head of state pointed out that “since 1990, the Chinese economy has not grown below the Asian average,” that “public debt has increased by 40 percentage points in a decade, and the birth rate has halved.”

“If logistical disruptions and economic cooling were patent and across the board during the pandemic, the zero covid policy and median vaccination rates have halted the Chinese recovery, growth of which this year is three times lower than the average of the last 30 years”. 

According to the president, the People’s Republic of China has a “strategic partnership with the Russian Federation with more than similarly muscular features,” but it is not “an alliance between equals” because China is “an emerging global power” and Russia is just “a regional power wanting to re-emerge as global.”

“Russia’s stance in Ukraine is uncomfortable for China, further delaying its economic recovery, and it is taking advantage of these dissonances that the Euro-American focus should be, not being satisfied with the geostrategic simplism of treating as equal weights and situations that are quite diverse”.

Regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Marcelo observed that “so far, the test, if it was a test, of regaining global power where there was regional power has not benefited from obviously accurate perceptions or sufficiently convincing strategic, political and military demonstrations”.

He spoke in passing about Brazil – where Lula da Silva was elected president on Sunday, defeating the incumbent head of state, Jair Bolsonaro – which he pointed out as one of “several regional powers in the process of transition”.

In Marcelo’s opinion, Brazil “accompanies the populist tensions on the left and right that are postponing the future of Latin America, but it may have another geostrategic opportunity, if it manages to preserve internal cohesion, if it asserts a lasting economic power and a prospective international vision”.

In his analysis the president also mentioned Nigeria – currently Portugal’s ‘largest gas supplier’, stating: “It seems to have found, for now, minimum stability that projects it into the international energy and security debate, so that stability resists external impulses motivated by greed or third-party interests with an internal echo”.

Continuing on the war in Ukraine, Marcelo said “the centrality of NATO in European security has been recognised in an extra way, with the Russian military threat, with the recent accessions of Sweden and Finland in almost concrete terms, and with renewed institutional cohesion in recent years.

“The European Union will remain united, be lucid, preserve the essential link to the most powerful transatlantic ally, and be able to adapt to new realities” without forgetting the rest of the world, he said.

It is an opinion that will find dissenters as political leaders in Ukraine have openly admitted keeping current support ‘on side’ will remain a work in progress.

Marcelo brought Portugal into his speech, acknowledging the country’s vulnerability in terms of the ‘external situation’.

Portugal has in its favour “ongoing foreign investment, tourism, and the demand for safe residence”, but “the world in 2022 is characterised, among other things, by immense pressure on democracies, with the spreading competition of authoritarian and hybrid models whose charm reaps not only in countries inside and outside Europe but also in parties that have gained space in Western democratic systems in recent years.”

“Today more than ever, we need democracy to be able to mobilise citizens for the great contemporary debates, for the great designs of Portugal, for the dangers that beset our collective security. This mobilisation must start from solid, stable political commitments, giving the indispensable consistency to the permanence of our national interests, regardless of successive strategic contexts, making predictability in the execution of public policies a comparative virtue”.

“Democracy needs to be cared for in form and content, preserving in its non-negotiable values, reformed in its most crystallised elements, rejuvenated in its protagonists, in an adaptation to the great transitions that the world is going through and in a capacity to respond to concrete problems of flesh and blood people who form the communities and are so often so different from the vision of specific political and media cycles,” he added.

In another habitually busy day, President Marcelo went on to receive Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska who has been in Lisbon as a guest of the Web Summit and to continue to promote support for her war-ravaged homeland.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com