Italy urged to treat China fairly and positively as Beijing escalates its charm offensive in Europe

Keegan Elmer
·4-min read

Beijing attempted to reassure Europe that China would not create division in the bloc while calling on the continent to remain independent of “particular countries” in handling its foreign relations.

The remarks were made by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio on Wednesday as Beijing steps up its engagement with Europe and tries to prevent the bloc from siding with the United States.

Wang’s comments are the latest in a series of warnings to European partners, including Britain, France and Germany, against falling under the influence of the US.

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“[China] hopes that the European side will adhere to strategic autonomy and proceed from its own fundamental, long-term interest and uphold an objective, fair and positive attitude in handling relations with China,” said Wang, according to a report on the video call from China’s foreign ministry.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio. Photo: EPA-EFE
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio. Photo: EPA-EFE

Wang said he hoped Europe would “be alert to particular countries inciting ideological opposition to serve their own private interests”, without specifying those “particular countries”.

According to the Chinese foreign ministry report, Di Maio told Wang that Italy was willing to play a “bridging role” in international affairs and deepen China-EU relations. Di Maio also thanked China for supplying Italy with medical supplies in the fight against the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The Italian side has not released a record of the call.

China’s growing footprint in Europe has raised some suspicions, but Brussels has pushed back by stepping up investment screening, and last year calling Beijing a “systemic rival” in the bloc’s most recent China strategy paper.

The call with Italy follows sharp remarks from Wang to European nations as the conflict between the US and China deepens.

In a phone call with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Monday, Wang accused London of being under pressure by “particular countries” – using the same term as he did with Di Maio – regarding its recent decision to ban the Chinese telecoms firm Huawei from its 5G infrastructure.

Wang explicitly named the US in a call with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Tuesday, and accused Washington of “bullying” and “reckless provocation”.

In a video call on Friday last week, Wang told German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas that “some anti-China forces in America have deliberately created ideological confrontation and openly threatened other countries to take a side”, and asked Germany to remain independent.

The call from Wang followed accusations from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Germany had not done enough in response to Beijing’s imposition of the Hong Kong national security law.

The US has also called out to other allies as well, as American and Australian officials issued a joint statement in Washington where the two sides pledged to deepen military cooperation, and to closely monitor Hong Kong’s upcoming elections in September in the wake of the national security law.

Increased campaigning from both Washington and Beijing comes amid rising tensions after the US ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston last week, and China retaliated by shutting down the American mission in Chengdu this week.

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