The most distinguished Italian diplomat discusses Xi Jinping’s project of global hegemony, and how he used the pandemic to advance his agenda.
by Stefano Filippi
Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata is widely regarded as the most distinguished Italian diplomat. He was Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations in 2008–2009, Italian Ambassador to the United States in 2009–2011 and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy between 2011–2013. He continues to be active in the fields of international security and human rights. He has observed China with interest during his long diplomatic career, and has also been active in promoting interreligious dialogue and religious liberty. [A previous version of this interview was published in Italian in La Verità on January 18, 2021].
Ambassador, you have granted several interviews on China and the COVID-19 crisis, arguing that COVID-19 became the “perfect weapon” for the Chinese regime. What does it mean?
I do not argue that the virus is a biological weapon. My point is that Xi Jinping’s government has used the pandemic to advance its project of global hegemony. It is a fact that during the pandemic, China has increased its political influence, through disinformation, propaganda, and aggressive diplomacy. They managed to persuade a certain amount of people that the virus was not born in Wuhan. Some even believe it originated in Italy. And they have also successfully marketed the theory that only China successfully contained the epidemic, while the Western democracies proved spectacularly that they are sick and decadent. The most paradoxical part of all this is that we all forget that, after the SARS epidemic, China signed in 2005 an international agreement asking all signatories to share information about new viruses within 24 hours. They blatantly violated this agreement, waiting for weeks and perhaps months before informing the world of what they knew about COVID-19, not to mention that only after more than one year they allowed a WHO mission to go to China and investigate. And this mission only includes experts China has approved. As I said, a perfect weapon.
Weapon for what, exactly?
I just read the book by the (admittedly conservative) American economist David Goldman, You Will Be Assimilated. The interesting point there is how the Chinese attitude changed under Xi Jinping. For centuries, China’s main interest, under different regimes, was internal security and the protection of its borders. For the first time, with Xi Jinping, there is a clear project of global domination. This is new. We do not need Western analysts, or Goldman for that matter, to come to this conclusion. Reading Xi Jinping’s own speeches, up to the last one at the Davos Economic Forum, is enough. Xi said he fully expects China to take the leadership in cutting edge technologies within the next five years. He means technologies that open the doors to controlling information, politics, economy. He also said in the past that China’s global hegemony should become a fact by the date of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. That date is July 1, 2021. It is true, however, that in other speeches he mentioned the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. This would bring us to 2049, which seems more realistic.
Yes, and the way to get there is not mostly through politics or military initiatives. The main themes discussed in the top summits of the CCP are the management of big data, artificial intelligence, blockchains. Xi Jinping said last year that there is a concerted plan for China to become the world leader in artificial intelligence. This plan is strictly managed by the government. Xi believes that those most advanced in the field of artificial intelligence will be in a good position to control the world. We talk a lot about 5G but in fact China is already experimenting with 6G, through Baidu. 6G will be some 100 times more powerful than 5G, and China is clearly taking the lead in this field.
Wasn’t the West once the world leader in the most advanced technologies? How did China overcome us?
China succeeded where the Soviets failed. Not that they did not try, but the Soviets were never really able to capture the West’s most advanced technology and intellectual property, and use them for their own purposes. Because so many Western companies take advantage of the low labor cost and have their factories in China, stealing their technology became much easier. The United States claim that the value of this stolen technology is between 400 and 600 billion dollars—each year. And there is more. China regularly pays some Western scientists as members of Chinese boards and commissions, and wines and dines many more by inviting them regularly for cultural exchanges. This is not hidden, and is not even illegal. But the consequences are obvious.
You have repeatedly denounced the policies of the Chinese regime against religious and ethnic minorities as genocide. This designation has now been officially adopted by the United States…
There are different definitions of genocide. What is happening in Xinjiang is a classic, Nazi-style genocide, with concentration camps and the forced sterilization of women. In Tibet, it started even before, by trying to eliminate the Tibetan language, culture, and religion, forcing Tibetans out of Tibet, and importing Han Chinese there, which is also typical of genocidal policies. Organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners and other prisoners of conscience is also a genocidal practice.
Xi Jinping claims as his great success the eradication of poverty. Is this also propaganda?
In Italy, we had a political leader who said the same just a couple of years ago. Yes, these statements are propaganda, and premised on self-serving definitions of poverty. Xi Jinping also said that half of the immense Chinese population survives with a monthly income of less than 1,000 yuan, or something less than 130 euro. They “survive,” but they are not out of poverty. Not to mention, again, the Uyghurs compelled to work for free and fed with a diet barely allowing for survival to produce 20% of the world’s cotton.
Is Xi’s project invincible? Or can the democratic world resist?
We should consider that in fact if we take North America, Australia-New Zealand, and Europe together, even without considering other Asian powers, the result is an economy almost four times bigger than China’s. The idea that, when confronting China, the West is David against Goliath is part of the Chinese propaganda. Of course, we should have the political will and determination to resist China, and of this I am not sure, including in my own country, Italy. On the other hand, the first messages from the Biden administration indicate that the politics aimed at containing China will continue. When I was the Italian Ambassador in Washington DC, I met several times Kurt Campbell, the diplomat who will work with Biden on China. It is a great expert of all things Chinese, and I believe he will do a good job. And in the European Union, I believe Commissioner Thierry Breton also has a clear understanding of the problems with China.