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  • xi jin ping and giuseppe conte
    xi jin ping and giuseppe conte
Rome, Quirinale, the presidencial palace, just before the meeting between president Mattarella and Xi Jinping. An italian journalist, Giulia Pompili, was on her way to the press room accompanied by a Qurinale officier. Hearing her name Yang Han, chief of the press office at the local Chinese Embassy looks at her saying: “you have to stop badmouthing China”. She smiles, introducing herself properly, and Yang Han says: “Don't laugh, you have to stop writing bad things about China”. Few minutes later, she is taking her cellphone out and Yang Han comes again: standing very close to hear, in an intimidatory way, he tells her to put her phone back in her bag. Adding: “Anyway, I perfectely know who you are...”. Her fault? To be the China expert of Il Foglio, a preminet italian newspaper, and to be very critic of China politics and of the Memorandum of Understanding. And not without reasons, it seems. Because the most astonishing thing is not Giulia being threatened by a chinese Embassy officier, but the fact that nobody showed him the door. So the message is: you can threaten an italian journalist in Italy, in the presidencial palace, in front of a Quirinale officer and get along with it. “We are not Beijing” wrote Il Foglio commenting the episode. True, Italy is not Beijing, otherwise Yang Han by now would be on his way back to China. But maybe is joining the likes of Pakistan and other so called 'democratic' countries already part of the New Silk Road. Nobody has yet quoted the friendship “higher than Himalayas, deeper than ocean sweeter than honey and stronger than steel” but Italy is fasting getting there. Not only Italy has become the first G7 country to join the BRI, to build a “better relationship” with China, but dealt with Xi Jinping and the chinese delegation in a worrysome way. Rome was pratically put under siege, the capital of Italy almost totally jammed for hours. The chinese community displayed in full attire weaving chinese red flags, and chinese 'volunteers' (read: agents) sent into the crowd to make sure nobody would held a signboard mention the words 'human rights' or 'uighur' or slightly criticizing Beijing. According to the local press, the 'volunteers' were supposed to translate and report to italian police the troublemakers. The representatives of a democratic, european government were all tiptoing around the Emperor of the BRI worried not to give even the slight reason to the chinese to be angry at Italy. To be fair Matteo Salvini, probably the most powerful man into the italian government, did not attend any cerimony commenting later that “for sure China is not a free market”. But the 5 Star Movement Economic Development Minister Luigi Di Maio, who strongly championed the agreement, has visited China many times in the previous months and was praising the 29 conracts signed by the government saying 'Italy First' (Thinking to quote Trump but Musharraf instead). Italy first means, first of all, in the 5 Star Movement eyes, breaking free from a USA dominated foreign politics and commercial strategies. Italy first means, according to Di Maio and his people, a shower of money raining into italian pockets without any string attached. Italy first means joining hands with a country who locks into concentration camp its political opponents, support terrorist countries, jails journalists, writers and any free voice, has no respect and no value for civil and human rights, keeps its workers in an almost slave condition. The money, of course, has come and will come even more. Not only for the MOU and the 29 contracts signed which, at the end of the day, could have been easily signed, as other countries did, without joining the BRI. The money has clearly already come, finding its way in the right pockets. So Italy, once again, can join the string of those countries where the local Chinese Embassies already proved their nefarious influence. A good sample of this strategy is Nepal, gradually becoming China's backyard, both literally and strategically. The Chinese Embassy in Nepal is reported to have identified political leaders, government advisers and academics to influence the decision making process in Nepal at all levels. According to sources, the most prominent among them is Rajan Bhattarai, a senior member of Communist Party of Nepal and appointed as Advisor to the PM on Foreign Policy. Bhattarai is also a member of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) on Nepal-India relations, a body that has been set up to recommend on the next course of Nepal-India relations. The Chinese have been funnelling money to Rajan Bhattarai on the pretext of conducting research studies. One of this studies, commissioned in early 2018 by the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu, was on Nepal-India boundary issues and Bhattarai was paid approximately 20,000 euro for it. Interestingly, the report, that was forwarded by Bhattarai to the Chinese embassy appeared to have been lifted from the final report submitted by the EPG on Nepal-India relations. In his current role as Advisor to the PM, Bhattarai appears to be a prize catch and one of China’s key sources in Nepal. The same kind of offensive, but on larger scale, is unfolding in Pakistan. Where in the past weeks a virulent offensive has been launched through media and social media boasting the CPEC as the greatest business opportunity on Earth for both local and foreign investors. Journalists, analysts and think tanks have been hired to glorify the so-called development project and to deny the tragedy of people living along the CPEC roads. Politicians, Army fellows, decision makers and journalists have been bribed and or threatened in various ways. And chinese are penetrating every strata of pakistani society. There are also a plethora of reports on Australian intelligence agencies having evidence of China using its agents of influence to ‘donate’ millions to Australian political parties, with the objective to expand the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in the country. In 2015, the Australian intelligence unearthed the case of Roger Uren, who had retired in August 2001 as Assistant Secretary of the Office of National Assessment (ONA), an agency that advises the Australian PM on classified matters. Investigations over the next few years have revealed that Uren and his wife Sheri Yan, a US citizen of Chinese origin, had established a complex network of contacts in Australia, who were being used to part with important information or influence decision making. All this came at varied costs, with bribes ranging from Rolex watches, exotic holidays to hefty ‘donations’. Nobody has explained yet to Italy why Xi Jinping has gone to Palermo, the electoral feud of Michele Geraci, chief Italian negotiator of the deal and an under secretary for economic development. According to Mr. Geraci, unlike the rest of the world already intangled into BRI, will find the way to avoid debit traps and that italian laws prevent foreign countries to take control of ports and infrastructures. What Mr. Geraci forgets to say, is that laws can be changed. And changes are already in the air.
Francesca Marino