Chinese PM on two-day official visit to Azores

A certain degree of mystery surrounds the two-day visit this week to the Azorean island of Terceira by Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang.

The fact that the island is the home of the US military base of Lajes – which the US means to scale down – and that China could be interested in the Azores’ “economy of the sea” has been played down.

Authorities say it is merely a courtesy visit.

But national media has made much of the moment, suggesting that the trip could have been organised to “put pressure” on America not to pull operatives out of Lajes, which is a pivotal source of the local economy.

According to the Portuguese-American Journal in 2012 – when the US first started showing signs of unease over its base on Terceira – China “may be considering to replace the US presence on the island”.

Indeed, as TVI24 remarks today (Tuesday) that Terceira has seen a number of visits by Chinese officials since then – starting with former prime minister Wen Jiabao in 2012; followed by the president of the Chinese Republic Xi Jinping in July, 2014.

Earlier this summer (June), China’s Minister of the Sea, Wang Hong also met Azores’ regional governor Vasco Cordeiro on the island of São Miguel.

But Cordeiro has refuted any ulterior motives for this week’s visit, suggesting only that it is an “honour and a pleasure”.

Minister for Foreign Affairs August Santos Silva told journalists it was much more a case of laying the groundwork for an upcoming visit to China next month by prime minister António Costa.

That “will be the occasion to advance with works that are now in the pipeline, to sign papers and to give some news”, Santos Silva told reporters.

Santos Silva’s words come in the context of a story in Público that claims the long-prepared bid to start deep-seabed mining off the Azores may be given the go-ahead for 2017.

Público explained earlier this month that the Azores regional government is waiting for the results of upcoming elections (on October 16) before making a decision that could pave the way towards the first seabed mining operation in Europe (click here).