The country that Renzi will visit next week is the kingdom of complexity. Italy cannot complete with the Asian giant’s growth, but Italy can use it, treating the complicated relationship with care.
The China that Renzi will discover in the next week is the kingdom of complexity. Behind the background of tradition, an unrecognizable country emerges with force compared to the premier’s birth date. His Chinese peers only know 10% GDP growth rates. They’re used to success, records, better standards of living, and to international deference in response to the fear they instill. Instead, Renzi matured in crisis and has to manage a country in decline.
Renzi’s mission is to manage is with acumen, to transform it from absolute to relative. Italy cannot compete with China’s growth, but Italy can use it instead, treating the complicated relationship with care. Furthermore, it is what’s being asked of Italy: a pragmatic relationship based on common interests in the absence of economic frictions and military politics.
In principle, Rome has a lot to offer Beijing. If China intends to escape the quantitative dimension of its growth, Italy can offer the most advanced technology. If the “obsession with GDP”—quoted from Xi Jin Ping—is to give way to a more mature and balanced growth, the know-how of small-medium enterprises in Italy would be very useful. More prosaically: Italian businesses have a lot to offer and their Chinese counterparts have the resources to make acquisitions. It’s not an issue of liquidating assets or betraying the Italian identity. These concepts faded with globalization long ago. The key to this question is negotiating as best as possible; it’s the principle that the Confederation of Italian Industries cannot avoid in the prime minister’s wake.
Even in Europe—with whom China boasts an enormous trade surplus—a stronger Italy can make its reasons count. Market access, investment regulations, and the tie between the economy and human rights are all arguments in which a single voice can reveal itself to be not only morally necessary, but also economically profitable. Otherwise, as is the case with Germany, one single country will gain an advantage from China’s power.
Finally, the most scorching political files need to find an answer that exceeds the conveniences of the single member-states. It’s the case of the arms embargo (decided 25 years ago after the Tiananmen Square Massacre) and the concession of the status of market economy that would render the commercial barriers against Beijing inapplicable.
To carry out this role, one must liberate oneself of unsuitable ideas. Demonizing or trivializing China is not necessary. The question to answer is not whether our relationship with the Asian giant are growing or deteriorating as much as whether Italy can offer everything that is being asked of it.
The trade and investment numbers fluctuate, but they are certainly below the potential. It’s time to take a look as some operational categories, those tied to the allure of “Made in Italy”—which should win over millions of Chinese people—and the exclusivity of exports, and attempts to impose a barrier to China on the basis of public order. Equally, it’s necessary to control the origin of capital, investors’ discipline, and the respect of recognized international laws.
For Italy, it’s a new challenge, and one to which our country is not accustomed: managing a complex situation. Renzi will discover an attentive audience. His delegates know their country’s problems well. They know corruption, bureaucracy, localism, and opaque finances. The reformative part of China must find a foothold because—as paradoxical as it may seem—it’s less powerful today than it appears. Renzi and Italy have something to offer China, as long as it changes tune and substitutes rhetoric with management.