The Dark Shadow of Chinese Globalization Falls Over Italy

National Review
Date: March 31, 2020
By: Christopher O'Dea

Police officers in front of a cargo container ship at a port in Qingdao, China, in 2018. (Stringer/Reuters)

China’s ambition is nothing less than world domination through control of maritime trade.

By quietly acquiring a global network of commercial ports from countries and investors unable or unwilling to maintain their critical economic infrastructure, China has reverse-engineered the logic of conquest: Chinese state-owned companies now control a base network of the sort that previous global hegemons obtained through military victory. Expect China to use the coronavirus crisis to accelerate its efforts to use that economic leverage to pull host countries deeper into Beijing’s political orbit.

It’s too early to say that the coronavirus crisis spells the end of globalization, but as the pandemic unfolds, the outlines of a new international trade and political order are emerging in the Mediterranean region. Call it “globalization with Chinese characteristics.”

As the death toll in Italy soared, China flew in a team of medical experts and nearly 30 tons of medical equipment. On a phone call a week later with Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte, Chinese president Xi Jinping pledged additional supplies and medical personnel. China also shipped medical equipment to Spain, Austria, and the Czech Republic, and millions of protective masks to France, the Netherlands, Greece, and other nations. But the aid was too late. By late March the death toll in Italy had surpassed the total that China was officially reporting, and even the news that the number of cases had dropped for the first time was accompanied by photos of Italian-army trucks carrying the dead on their final journey.

That was not the visual backdrop Italian leaders were seeking less than a year ago when they signed a memorandum of understanding with China, committing Italy to Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative. Italy also signed nearly 20 related agreements to build new port and road infrastructure, initiate scientific cooperation in space science and satellite technology, boost exports of frozen pork and citrus fruit to China, and tap Chinese investment funds to pay for many of the projects. Despite the wide-ranging commitments agreed to in Rome in March, China apparently did not believe it had any responsibility to tell its new partner that a dangerous virus had been on the loose in Wuhan in December, and that many of the Chinese arriving in Northern Italy during the winter might be carriers. The decimation of Italy’s elderly highlights how China handles partner nations, and it’s a dark future.

Receiving less attention are papers and articles in the last few days in which leading Chinese academics and industrial leaders present the virus crisis as an opportunity to make epidemic control a major Chinese export. From surveillance drones, disinfection robots, and AI-powered epidemic-forecasting systems to no-contact technology for online education and new factories to make fabric for protective masks, the virus is a boon for Chinese business. In the People’s Daily, the former head of China’s state cement company, Song Zhiping, wrote that “these areas are bound to become the focus of attention of the entire society and have great potential for development”— as if deaths in Turin were market research for China’s new industry.    [FULL  STORY]