Will we be scandalized if Chinese peasants enter the elite boy’s club of Italian finance? Yes, but only if we nurture the memory of a world that doesn’t exist any more. China is overflowing with billionaires, assets, and reserves worth 4 trillion dollars. Instead, Italian chattel is creaking toward decomposition, dust, and debt. This is the economic background that explains China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange’s latest attack, the acquisition of 2.001% of Mediobanca. As in previous cases (FCA, Telecom Italia, Prismyan, Eni, Enel) the threshold of 2% was deliberately surpassed to trigger the obligatory publicity concerning the investment; in each case the company was publically listed. Renzi’s opening to China was the political background; the ideological background comes from the limitless boundaries of globalization. Concepts of identity and nationality have faded; the necessity to produce and consume imposes choices that surpass confines and passports. People invest where it’s most convenient, or at least where they think so. Therefore, can everything be explained by China’s new approach to Italy? Not exactly.
China is probably thinking more about its wallet than strategy while acquiring. China does not excel in financial planning. It seeks immediate profits in safe sectors. It’s possible that it considers Italy a launching pad for Europe, but it’ll have to be happy with plan B. It would prefer to enter—paying, of course—through the front door, but Washington and Berlin are much more reluctant to sell family heirlooms. Beijing’s ambition is to seize what it doesn’t have. Africa takes care of raw materials, and the West should aid with technology and services. In any case, not everyone is trusting, or wants and needs to do it. Southern Europe needs restorative cash injections; Beijing can offer them in exchange for electrical networks in Portugal, and shipping ports in Greece. It’s the same story in Italy.
The nagging doubt is not whether Italy should have sold or not or which line it should follow: Berlin’s rigidity or the Mediterranean’s neediness. The trouble was selling under conditions of weakness. The risk was having to import few rules and tons of interests. The cause is not knowing how to manage complex situations. Facing China’s emersion implied studying, managing, and negotiating. Instead, Italy barricaded itself in falsely ideological discussions, which were always sterile and frequently wrong. In the end, our hand forced by the crisis, we’re selling or selling off: too little, too late.
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