We were delighted to host another successful Power Hour. “Paper, Planes & Politics”, our 28th event in the series, took place in the Jade Room of The St. Regis Macao with an audience of more than three dozen guests.
Our guest speaker, Danilo Afonso-Henriques, had just completed a nine-year tenure in Macau as the Delegate of Timor-Leste at Forum for Economic and Trade Co-operation between China and Portuguese-Speaking Countries (Macao) – also known as Forum Macao.
On his final night in the city, Danilo spoke about his life, from fleeing Timor-Leste as a 3-year-old and becoming a refugee in Portugal to growing up in Australia and eventually pursuing a career as a diplomat. He also shared fascinating insights and details about Timor-Leste’s history and development.
The Portuguese formally occupied Timor-Leste from 1769 to 1975, only interrupted briefly by the World War II Allies’ occupation of its capital Dili in 1941 and, from 1942, by Japanese occupation that lasted only until the end of World War II, when the Portuguese resumed control of the eastern part of Timor Island.
To escape the Southeastern Asian nation before the Indonesian invasion of Timor-Leste in 1975, Danilo and his family had to leave the country on different planes. He and his mother were the first, boarding the last Portuguese military plane to depart the island in September, followed by his older brother and sister, who boarded a Norwegian cargo plane that same month. His father left Timor-Leste in September by hijacking a Royal Australian Air Force Caribou that was there to evacuate Australian nationals.
Danilo vividly recollected poignant memories of returning to the war-torn country in 1999 – 25 years later – when Indonesia’s occupation officially ended. He recalled, “I boarded this Hercules [aircraft] in Darwin. It was super loud, I couldn’t talk.” He wrote a message on a piece of paper to the crew asking if he could come up to the cockpit when the plane was approaching Dili, having been away from his homeland for decades. He was invited into the cockpit. “It was an incredible moment.”
Today, there is still much to be done when it comes to rebuilding Timor-Leste, which has a population of about 1.5 million. As a representative for his birth country, Danilo is committed to promoting the nation’s culture, building international relationships and sharing opportunities with foreign investors.
“We are still dependent on oil and gas, but we have other unexplored opportunities, such as in marine tourism. We see huge potential in whale watching and scuba diving,” he said, when discussing Timor-Leste’s evolving economy.
He also spoke about expanding business opportunities between Macau and his home country, pointing to a few local companies with investments in Timor-Leste. Among them, he mentioned Charlestrong Café Company Limited, which has created a local coffee brand, Café Diliy, using Timor Hybrid coffee beans.
“We have quality coffee – a combination of Arabica and Robusta,” he said. “We are a small nation, there’s always this niche market where you will find quality over quantity.”
At the end of our April Power Hour, Danilo gave Janet McNab, AustCham Macau’s outgoing Chair of the Board of Directors, and Vice-Chair Billy Chan a Tais cloth – a traditional handwoven Timorese textile mainly used for celebrations or traditional ceremonies.
A memorable way to wrap up the evening. We’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Danilo for making the time to share his story and work, and a very big thank you to our venue sponsor, The St. Regis Macao, for the great setting , food and drinks, as always.
We look forward to seeing you all at our next Power Hour!