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Italy - China Relations

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed up his country 23 March 2019 to China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an ambitious trillion-dollar transcontinental trade and infrastructure project. The memorandum signing in Rome was the centerpiece of Chinese President Xi Jinping's three-stop visit to Europe and it will make Italy the first G-7 nation to participate in China's so-called New Silk Road.

Italy's endorsement of the BRI, which spans Eurasia as well as the Middle East and parts of Africa, has prompted the disquiet not only of the United States, but also of European Union leaders, who have voiced concern about Beijing's growing political clout in Europe and its use of commerce as a tool of statecraft. The U.S. has been critical of the trillion-dollar project and warned about the risks of "debt-trap diplomacy." Members of the EU are worried the plan could add to fissures in an already strained coalition.

Matteo Salvini, head of the populist Lega party, which represents one-half of Italy's coalition government, indicated his opposition by staying away from the signing ceremony and wasn't be present at a gala dinner afterward. Salvini, an ideological bedfellow of Donald Trump and friend of the U.S. president's former adviser, Steve Bannon, frets the BRI risks turning Italy into a Chinese colony and will saddle it with more debt. He also publicly indicated his security concerns about allowing the Chinese control of critical infrastructure, including major ports.

Since 2004, Italy has a strategic partnership with the PRC, providing a forum to discuss bilateral issues, regional and multilateral issues of common interest as well as issues pertaining to EU-China relations. The central operational tool of this partnership is the Italy-China Government Committee, set up in 2004 and co-chaired by the Foreign Ministers of the two countries (the 8th edition took place in Beijing on 18th December 2017). The Committee brings together representatives from the main public administrations of the two countries and helps developing sectoral cooperation.

The underlying principles and the priority areas of bilateral cooperation are outlined in the Action Plan, which was adopted on 16 May 2017 in Beijing by the President of the Council of Ministers Gentiloni with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang. Economic and trade cooperation are paramount in the bilateral relationship, with a view to address excessive macroeconomic imbalances as well as attracting more Chinese investment in Italy, especially industrial investment.

On several occasions, China has acknowledged to Italy an approach based on respect and frankness that makes of Italy, in the furrow of a centuries-old inheritance, the ideal Bridge of dialogue between Europe and China. On the other hand, the Italo-Chinese political agenda is not limited by time to bilateral issues alone, but it now includes with conviction the broader issues of global breadth. To this end it has largely contributed to the the work of the Government Committee Italy-China, instrument of the bilateral strategic partnership set up in 2004 and authentic cockpit of all initiatives Italian-Chinese institutions, chaired by their respective Foreign Ministers.

In 2011, China was the third largest trading partner in Italy (after Germany and France, before the United States and Spain), third vendor and seventh customer. The trade exchange totalised in that year amounted to 54.7 billion (EUROSTAT). Italian exports to China are double compared to Brazil and Japan and almost triple compared to India. It is also useful to note that the incidence of the Italian trade deficit on the total interchange is decreasing. In the period January-September of 2012, the Chinese exports to Italy total share was $19.7 billion, the Italian exports $12.3 billion (data of the Chinese Customs).

As for investment, it is desirable to intensify the flow of Chinese FDI in Italy (300 million) still largely below the potential and far from the volume of productive initiatives initiated in China by Italian companies (about 6 billion). The potential for development of trade and investment remains very high, also as a function of the desired increased opening of the Chinese market to European products and services, which in turn presuppoints the recognition of market economy status for China.

Thermometer of the excellent state of health of the bilateral relationship is undoubtedly the liveliness of the exchanges of high-profile political visits. There have arrived in Italy, during three years, six of the nine members of the Standing Committee of the Chinese Politburo (a consideration of unparalleled regard in Europe): Hu Jintao (2009), Wu Bangguo (2009), He Guoqiang (2010), Wen Jiabao (2010) and, lastly, Xi Jinping (June 2011) and Jia Qinglin (November 2012), respectively newly-appointed Head of State/Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party and outgoing President of the People's Advisory Conference.

The President of the Council visited China from 30 March to 2 April 2012, meeting with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, First Deputy Minister Li Keqiang, President of China Investment Corporation Lou Jiwei and Governor of Central Bank Zhou Xiaochuan. President Monti went first in Beijing previously, on the sidelines of the Seoul nuclear Summit (March 26), he met the President of the People's Republic Hu Jintao and then on the island of Hainan, where he participated as main speaker at the prestigious Boao Forum. The two visits by the Minister for the Environment and the Protection of the Territory and the Sea Corrado Clini (March and May) were also held in 2012; Of the Minister of Economy and Finance Prof. Vittorio Grilli (April); Of the Minister of Education, University and Research Francesco Profumo (June); Of the Minister for Heritage and Cultural Activities, Lorenzo Ornaghi (July); Of the Minister of Labour and Social Policies Elsa Fornero (July); of the Minister of Economic Development Corrado Passera (November).

Finally, On the sidelines of the ASEM Summit in Vientiane, the two Prime Ministers Monti and Wen had a fruitful colloquium, during which an updated framework was presented by the Italian side of the measures undertaken in favour of the rehabilitation growth and the role of Italy in favour of strengthening the governance of the Eurozone. On the Chinese side was confirmed the supporting role in efforts to overcome the sovereign debt crisis in Europe.

Beijing also enhances a dialogue between two Nations that are united by the heritage of Ultramillenarian cultures, which is considered essential to mutual respect and mutual understanding. It Is in this frame that our staunch effort is placed, as a Farnesina, aimed at the intensification of people-to-people relations (since the last became the third pillar of the strategic partnership between the Union and China, inaugurated in 2003 by the Italian EU Presidency and With an Italian President of the European Commission) and the development of communication initiatives. In 2011, the diplomatic-consular Offices of Beijing, Canton and Shanghai treated 260,027 visa applications, recording an increase of 45.8% compared to the previous year, with a clear prevalence of Schengen tourism visas (181,535, equal to 70%). And for business (43,295, equal to 16.7%) of the total number of visas issued.

From the entire foreign network, it was 21.5% of the total business visas and 15% overall of those for tourism. Italy has issued a quarter of the total Schengen visas in China, in second place after France which also has two Consulates. In the period January-September 2012 were issued 237thousand visas (+ 17.8%), of which 182thousand for tourism (+ 28.8%) And about 34 thousand for business (+ 4.7%). The positive reflections in terms of increased revenues for the revenue and attraction of tourists in Italy and in the induced are very obvious. Finally, the particular role of Hong Kong, the fourth trading partner of Italy in Asia after China Japan and India and advanced access platform for our productions not only towards the domestic Chinese market but also towards the whole of South East Asia, Should be recalled. The strength of bilateral relations with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is witnessed by the continuous increase in trade, which in recent years have continued to grow even in times of worst international conjuncture: the interchange reached in 2011 the flattering share of $10.79 billion USA. The positive trend continued even in the early part of the year. In the first quarter of 2012, Italian exports to Hong Kong increased by almost 7.5% compared to the same period of 2011. Between 2009 and 2011 Our exports grew on average at a rate of about 30% per annum, with a net balance (unlike that with the Mainland China) positive for Italy.

Military-to-military relations grew steadily. In July 2013, General Zhang Youxia, Member of the Central Military Commission of the CPC and Director of the General Armaments Department of the People's Liberation Army, visited Italy and met with Defense Minister Mario Mauro. In May, the 14th fleet of the Chinese navy fulfilling escort mission and the Italian fleet exchanged onboard visits in the eastern waters of the Gulf of Aden.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Italian counterpart, Sergio Mattarella, held talks 22 March 2019 in Rome, and agreed to jointly push for greater development of the China-Italy comprehensive strategic partnership in the new era. The two heads of state agreed to guide the direction of bilateral ties from a strategic height and long-term perspective. During their talks, Xi noted that both as countries with an ancient civilization, China and Italy have profound historical relations.

The year 2019 marked the 15th anniversary of the China-Italy comprehensive strategic partnership, and the two countries will celebrate the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic relations next year, Xi said. He recalled that for nearly half a century, China and Italy have respected, trusted and helped each other, enhanced high-level exchanges and strategic mutual trust, facilitated communication, cooperation and convergence of interests, and deepened mutual understanding and traditional friendship.

The two sides need to strengthen communication on visions, consolidate political mutual trust, continue to extend mutual understanding and support on issues of each other's core interests and major concerns, and strengthen communication and cooperation between their governments, legislative bodies and political parties, Xi said. He encouraged the two sides to create highlights in bilateral cooperation, jointly build the Belt and Road, and promote the synergy of their development strategies and the planning of practical cooperation.

Xi said he hopes that Italy will continue playing a positive role in promoting EU-China partnership for peace, growth, reform and civilization, Xi said. China is willing to strengthen communication and coordination with the Italian side on major issues such as the United Nations affairs, global governance, climate change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, jointly promote trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, and jointly push economic globalization in the direction of becoming more open, inclusive, balanced, win-win, and beneficial to all, he said.

Italy and China were at the two ends of the ancient Silk Road which had been a bond closely linking the two countries, Mattarella said. Italy supports Xi's initiative on jointly building the Belt and Road and believes that it will be conducive to Eurasian connectivity and common development, as well as to reviving the ancient Silk Road in modern times, Mattarella said.

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Page last modified: 23-03-2019 04:45:46 ZULU