"Portugal's focus is in line with a general change [in policy] in the European Union", argued the author of the book 'The Gate to China'.

"I don't see anything antagonistic between Portugal and China or between China and Portugal," he said. "The political basis is to reduce risks. This is the new paradigm for the European Union. There are differences in the way each European country interprets it, but the direction is clear", he highlighted.

China has become, in the last decade, the fourth largest foreign direct investor in Portugal. Chinese companies, both state-owned and private, hold a global position valued at 11.2 billion euros in the Portuguese economy, according to the Bank of Portugal (BdP). Investments cover the areas of energy, banking, insurance or health.

In 2018, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on the "Belt and Road" initiative, a mega infrastructure project launched by Beijing that aims to expand its global influence through the construction of ports, railway lines or highways.

Moving away

"Now, Prime Minister António Costa's government has quietly returned to the North Atlantic consensus and moved away from the previously intimate relationship with Beijing," noted Sheridan, in an article published by the Center for European Policy think tank.

"Portugal gives priority to NATO and was encouraged to change course by a large and active United States embassy in Lisbon", he pointed out.

A consultative body of the Portuguese Government deliberated, last May, on the de facto exclusion of Chinese companies from the development of fifth-generation (5G) networks. The decision is the "most extreme" among all European countries, officials from the Chinese technology group Huawei stressed to the Lusa agency this week.

The absence of visits by senior Portuguese government officials to the Asian country, which until the Covid-19 pandemic took place almost monthly, also seems to signal a distancing in relations. The reopening of China's borders last January resulted in an intense diplomatic agenda in Beijing, with dozens of heads of state and government or ministers from foreign countries visiting the country.

The Secretary of State for Tourism, Commerce and Services, Nuno Fazenda, broke the hiatus this week, but did not go beyond Guangdong, in the extreme southeast of China, where he met with a deputy governor of the province.

The journalist, who spent 20 years as a correspondent in the Far East, warned, however, of the adoption of retaliatory measures by China in situations involving protectionism or the exclusion of Chinese suppliers from the 5G network.

"The [Chinese] government is an expert and intelligent in developing countermeasures and has a set of tools that it can use," he explained.

Sheridan considered that Portugal's "tradition and history" with China are a "great advantage", because Portuguese decision-makers "maintain some institutional memory" and "have a cultural and social sense of how China thinks and what its traditions are policies.”

He highlighted the "bond" created by Macau, where the Portuguese presence dates back to the 16th century. The transfer of Macau's sovereignty to China took place in 1999, in an agreement "seen by Beijing as an example of cooperation and mutual benefit".

“Portugal brings a lot to the table institutionally in Europe,” noted Sheridan.

“Relations between countries are always transactional and realistic,” he said. "You have to keep that in mind."