Hong Kong democratic leader Nathan Law, DAFOH, and Falun Gong practitioners made their voices heard in Rome—not to very much avail
by Marco Respinti
On August 25, the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, met in Rome his Italian homologue, Luigi Di Maio. The meeting came after President Xi Jinping’s visit to Italy, in March 2019, when on behalf of the Italian government Di Maio signed a “Memorandum of Understanding,” which sealed Italy’s entrance into the Belt and Road Initiative. Many regarded the Memorandum as an act of political and cultural submission to China. The August 25 meeting did nothing to assuage their concerns.
It is true that, in the press conference following the meeting, Di Maio stated that Italy’s “membership in the European Union (EU) and NATO is quite solid”, but he also stressed that “China is one of Italy’s most strategic economic partners.” The two statements are so obvious that we can suspect they hide something else.
It’s not solely the economy, stupid
Di Maio continued to thank China for its help to Italy during the pandemic, following in the footsteps of the rhetoric about a “Silk Road of Health,” which was touted in a phone conversation between President Xi Jinping and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on March 16. This help has been grossly overstated, and Di Maio did not mention the problems caused by China through its less than transparent management of information about COVID-19 in the early phase of the pandemic.
Di Maio’s statements seem to be based on the idea that politics and economy are totally separated. They are not. For the CCP, economy has always been a tool to implement a political agenda. Economist Michele Geraci, who served as the Italian Undersecretary for Economic development in 2018 and 2019 while Di Maio himself lead that Ministry, was an eager proponent of the theory that economic ties should lead to a closer cooperation between Italy and China in all fields. Geraci is no longer part of the government, but he was a driving force behind the 2019 Belt and Road Memorandum.
Some speculated that the true reason of Wang’s visit to Italy is his frantic search for allies for the CCP’s effort to promote Huawei 5G networks internationally, after several countries, led by the United States, vowed to stop the cooperation with the Chinese company. Media reported that Di Maio in recent weeks or months has been more attentive to the American position than he was before. However, no final decision has been taken excluding Huawei from Italian 5G projects.
What is worse, Italy’s references to human rights in China continued to be too little too late. Yes, Di Maio told Wang that “it is indispensable to preserve the high degree of autonomy and liberty” of Hong Kong, but this reminds us of the tale of the mouse and the dragon. The mouse might have believed it roared, but for the dragon the mouse’s roar was laughable. The CCP theoretically agrees with the idea that “it is indispensable to preserve the high degree of autonomy and liberty” of Hong Kong. It just adds that autonomy and liberty are best preserved by repressing the “thugs” threatening them, by which the CCP means the democratic opposition. Without any strong reaction from the Italian side, Wang told the media that he and Di Maio “discussed Hong Kong in respect of a spirit of non-interference. I told him that the reason for the security law is to fill the gaps that have existed for so many years and to fight the violent acts that take place all over the island. We made the law to guarantee everyone’s rights and autonomy.”
Standing for truth
But Hong Kong is just part of the CCP’s human rights problem, although an especially important one. Di Maio did not mention the arbitrary arrests, detention camps, slave labor, deportations, tortures, extra-judicial killing, religious repression, cultural genocide, and ethnic cleansing that are affecting entire nations, groups, movements, and churches all over China.
This is why Hong Kong dissident Nathan Law came to Rome to protest against this acquiescent policy in front of the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Law is the historical leader of the 2014 Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, and in 2016 became the youngest member elected to the Legislative Council of the Special Administrative Region, only to be disqualified by then island’s government in 2017. He lives in exile in London, and has been invited to Italy by the opposition Senator Lucio Malan, co-chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, and by Laura Harth, who represents the Transnational Radical Party at the UN.
A group of Falun Gong practitioners also demonstrated in Rome, denouncing the gruesome practice of human harvesting, while Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH), one of the most important organization in the field, wrote a letter to Di Maio on the subject. Unfortunately, with some praiseworthy exceptions, Italian media focused more on Di Maio’s flamboyant tan at the meeting with his Chinese colleague than on the atrocities perpetrated by the CCP and conveniently forgotten in Rome.