China – Italy relationship is currently characterized by an unexpected tension. Beijing accused Italy because of its intention to interfere in Hong Kong’s crisis, siding with the democratic protesters: “It is a big mistake. Italy has no right to interfere in our business”. These harsh words provoked the harsh reply of Luigi Di Maio and Roberto Fico, willing to defend the freedom of the Italian Parliament. Their dispute focuses on Joshua Wong, the student leading the Hong Kong’s democratic movement. For Beijing, he is a dangerous subversive man while the Italian politicians described him as a freedom defender.

Summing up what happened, Hong Kong is a liberal town rioting against China that, on its turn, is trying to absorb it in its authoritarian system. A few members of the Italian Party Brothers of Italy organized a press conference at the Senate, where Joshua Wong held a speech. Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni also intervened against the protests of the Chinese ambassador in Rome.

Because of that, the Italian government, headed by Conte, is now placed in a difficult position that we can understand only explaining what Italy is experiencing. Italy is not growing anymore and, since economy is the main pillar for the development of any population, Conte’s executive would like to benefit from China’s growth. However, acting this way, Italy is triggering the anger of the US that, on their turn, don’t want Rome to sign trade agreements with Beijing. Consequently, given its growing proximity towards China, Italy cannot go on in a linear way. In other words, Italy has to go “back and forth”. That means that MoU with China, causing Trump’s rage, have to be followed by some diplomatic crisis, aiming at calming down the White House.

Once we have defined the current situation in Italy, related to its economic stalemate, and which should be the next step, namely the adoption of a “back and forth” approach, we now should wonder about the future possible Italian step with China. Within this framework, we should know that the economic growth is not the only element to take into account. It represents a necessary condition for the prosperity of the Italian population, but it is not enough. If the economic conditions are auspicious but the country faces bad international alliances, prosperity becomes an illusion. This has been demonstrated with Iran: this country could be a rich one, but actually it is poor, due to the sanctions aiming at punishing its anti-Israel alliances with Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Bashar al-Assad in Syria. This is why Conte’s government has to become closer to China without losing the US, since who loses the US also loses the opportunity to become a prosperous country. With this in mind, the Italian scenario is not positive. The US have bad relations with the countries that represent desirable partners for Italy. US- Iran relationship is terrible, and Italy is the best trading partner in Europe for Teheran. Moreover, the US have a bad relationship with Russia, and this also damages the Italian enterprises. During the Trump administration, relations worsened with China too, the country considered as a stimulus to boost the Italian economy.

The advantageous strategic mechanism for Italy, that is the “back and forth” one, can work if tasks are divided: on the one hand, the opposition members of Parliament, supporting Hong Kong’s protesters should go back; on the other hand, the Foreign minister, who signs trade agreements with China, should go forward. This is exactly the kind of strategic approach adopted by the US: Trump supports China and the American deputies side with Hong Kong’s democrats. Obviously, if the Foreign minister comes into conflict with the Chinese government, the Italian strategic movement won’t work anymore. However, in this case too, we don’t have good news. Since Italy is experiencing a phase of constant electoral campaign, debilitating the entire State, Di Maio has been made part of a controversy with a country, China, useful for a greater consensus in the short term. Actually, Meloni claimed for Di Maio’s intervention, so as to embarrass him. And this is exactly what happened: the Five Star Movement’s leader cannot risk to be considered less democratic than its opponents.

Alessandro Orsini