A particularly inspired Xi Jinping visited Sardinia on Wednesday, after his participation at the COP22 conference in Morocco. It was an opportunity to observe Chinese investments more closely and to meet informally with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. It was just a dinner; there was no scheduled time to meet with the press, just a photo op.
Local authorities have paid great attention to the visit, since they are interested in promoting the Sardinia brand in the Chinese tourism market. Xi, who has been accused of trying to revive the ancient cult to Mao’s personality, knows his weight among the Chinese. He ironically — or maybe not — said that, in fact, the visit of the Chinese President to Sardinia could help drive tourism to the island: “After my visit today, I hope many Chinese will come here: There will be a big return of image from the tourism point of view. Many will be intrigued, after seeing images of my trip.” They hope so in Sardinia.
Xi also visited the archaeological site of Nora. Near there is a high-tech industrial park, in which the Chinese tech giant Huawei has invested $20 million. Xi was won over by the landscape and prospects (he observed “on the one hand the nature, on the other technology”).
The governor of Sardinia expressed his satisfaction with trade and tourism relations with China. “For us, it is a great honor to host in our land President Xi Jinping and offer an opportunity to appreciate our excellence, and create the conditions for other important trade agreements. We re-launched the sister relationship with the Hainan Island and the mission in China has launched other important initiatives.”
And it’s not just the tech industry. The Sardinian company Alimenta exports 95 percent of its production of powdered sheep milk for baby formula in China. There are also excellent deals in the wine market for Sella e Mosca, Argiolas, Cantine Santadi and Mancini, and in the agri-food sector for oil producer San Giuliano, Smeraldina water and Cellino pasta. It is a relationship which reflects the current connection between Italy and China. Back in 2014, Xi and Renzi had signed the launch of the “Italy-China Business Forum” project.
According to Eurostat data, in general terms during 2015, trade between Italy and China “amounted to €38.6 billion, up 8.47 percent compared to 2014, with an increase of our imports of about 12.3 percent (€28.15 billion) and a substantially unchanged exports trend (minus 0.68 percent, for a total of €10.42 billion).” Renzi is mostly interested in the innovation sector, especially in the dynamics of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, although the reason for the informal meeting between the two leaders could also cover other topics, not only business.
Xi knows that one of the consequences of Trump’s victory in the U.S. could also be to restore the enamel to the relations between China and Europe. In recent years, Italy has recovered a lot of ground, after years lost for lack of understanding of the Chinese market, and it finally seems to operate as a “system.”
But the leader of the CCP also knows that Renzi (who said he was “honored by his presence”) can be a good acid test for understanding the European approach to Trump’s victory. The situation is fluid, all await the next moves of the new American president, but Xi has a really urgent issue: moving forward the “One Road, one Belt” project, the new Silk Road, to obtain important results also in Europe.