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  • Spencer Low

So what? Why this history still matters today

Interesting as it may be, the influence that the Portuguese exerted in Asia so many centuries ago is often relegated to the introductory chapter of Europe's engagement with this part of the world. That engagement evolved from early adventurism to full-scale colonialism, and the Portuguese themselves were no saints.

This history, however, reminds us that small nations can play outsized roles when they seize the chance. The first-mover advantage can be short-lived as larger rivals muscle in, but what are the opportunities for small countries like Singapore, Estonia and others in today's world?

António Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal since 2015, has Goan ancestry..

Portugal became a shadow of itself, and in recent decades was considered one of the weakest economies of the European Union. That said, Portugal today has its strengths too, and can it make use of its historical ties with Asia to chart a new course in today's turbulent world?

Wiarda admired “the interesting niches and inter-stitches” of Portuguese activity in world affairs, which has been rather shrewdly based on what a relatively poor country can reasonably accomplish. According to Wiarda, Portugal’s strategy is one that other small countries might benefit by emulating.

Note: Howard J. Wiarda, Professor of International Politics, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, spoke about the Portuguese Legacy in Asia at a meeting sponsored by the Asia Program and the West European Studies Program of the Wilson Center on September 13, 2002

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