Seventy years ago, while the ruins of World War II were still smoking, the Yalta Conference sought to establish an international order that led to the birth of the United Nations, as its politically and historically most important result.
The key principles of the Charter of the United Nations are preventing war, maintaining peace, promoting cooperation. Certainly in the Charter we find key principles such as equality between all actors in the international system, the principle of the peaceful settlement of disputes and the prohibition of the use of force.
Certainly again, the Charter of the United Nations is and must be a fundamental guide for international relations.
I have clear in mind – and I want to stress at the very beginning of my speech – that China, being among the victorious countries, took part in this important stage of definition of the United Nations Charter and was even the first country to sign the Charter of the United Nations. I want to remember that fact at the very beginning in order to reiterate my assessment of a China closely linked to the founding values of the United Nations, which is extremely important.
Seventy years later, there is an image that I would rather symbolically put alongside that of the signing of the Charter of the United Nations: a picture far less reassuring and much less promising for the future. I am referring to the last G8 meeting, become G7 due to Russia’s suspension, which was held in the German city of Garmisch several months ago.
Seven countries, including my own country, Italy, met on that occasion: in my view, nowadays they are scarcely representative of international governance, since they represent only Western traditional countries, certainly relevant for their importance, but which may not have the ambition to maintain this G8/G7 model as an acceptable global governance model. And even G20, I think, is now a body not quite sufficient to respond to major global challenges. Suffice it to say that the entire African continent has only one Country in G20, and the Arab world is underrepresented because only Saudi Arabia participates to the Group on a permanent basis. All that lets us already understand that in a globalized world that has become increasingly multipolar, we cannot imagine new international orders similar to Yalta’s, unless promoting much more cooperation among all the international actors.
I think China is a global actor essential for the world of today and tomorrow for various reasons. If I were to indicate the strengths of the international role of China, I would underline first – as already mentioned – the strong and close attachment to the principles and criteria written in the Charter of the United Nations.
Second, I would like to recall the importance of China in seeking and finding a settling of disputes and crisis issues, starting from the Far East. I would remember also the essential contribution to the dialogue for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. But today, as demonstrated by the important agreement that has been reached, we have to take into account also the work done by China to reach an agreement on Iran’s nuclear non-proliferation. I would also add the role that China has played and plays in the Middle East. And, of course, how could we forget South Sudan…
Italy is extremely involved in tackling similar global problems, and we agree with the Chinese policy also in this respect. There is an active action against terrorism, against drugs international trafficking, aiming at improving and mitigating the effects of the climate change. I must say that in this respect Italy and China have a very special relationship, as both – China and certainly Italy too – give a great contribution to the United Nations peacekeeping through their own military peacekeeping contingents. The commitment to fight piracy is equally important: Italy actively participates to the European mission, as well as to NATO’s, while PRC has organized and organizes numerous missions in the Gulf of Aden and in the waters off the Somali coast as well.
A third very strong element is the active action of China in promoting what we might call the mutual understanding and mutual learning among peoples and civilizations. Here, China has a long millenary history and is particularly close to Italy with its history, also ancient and millenary. And certainly, when it comes to dialogue between cultures and civilizations, China and Italy really have a word to say in today’s world. I think an initiative as the World Cultural Forum will bring great developments.
Obviously, there are also economic development, growth, the fight against unemployment, and we can certainly say that wherever there is growth, there are better conditions for stability and peace. According to a saying, where businesses grow weapons do not pass. And this is something China is particularly keen on through its growth, which certainly takes place at levels extraordinarily higher than the European; but China is also a promoter of global initiatives that aim at the development, growth, infrastructural improvement, let’s say at creating a global growth even during the international financial crisis.
I believe that in all these areas I have mentioned very quickly, China has been guided by the intention to be a participant in the international order, not a challenger to that order, and then, in essence, to be a facilitator and a contributor. As an Italian, a European, I strongly share this view. And having had many meetings with important authorities, I also think that in its initiatives China has underlined as principles essential to international relations some principles in which personally as European and Italian I believe strongly, such as: more multilateralism and less unilateralism; the need for strengthening the rule of law, because frankly speaking the law of the jungle is not compatible with a contemporary civilization; a democratization of all political processes. In this, I believe, once again, China’s role on the international stage is important. I think only of the essential contribution that China is giving to the reform of the United Nations, where China, Italy and Spain – together with other countries – strongly agree in asking for more openness, more democracy, more affordable access by all actors, against a closed system that sometimes seems truly undemocratic. These are all examples of the positive role of China in today’s world.
I think that from this perspective we should highlight how a new instrument which has become a key tool in China’s foreign policy since at least 2013 is the project which is now universally known as “the new Silk Route”, illustrated by the presentation made by President Xi Jinping.
And let me say with Italian pride that, when speaking here in China of the Silk Road, it is impossible not to think of two great Italians like Marco Polo and Matteo Ricci, that the Chinese friends have honoured to the point of putting them – the only Italians – in the great mausoleum that recalls all the Chinese who have made this Country great over the centuries. So here’s the route of Marco Polo, the route of Matteo Ricci, the route that China has followed for centuries and that is relaunching today with a project that really can be an extraordinary project of development of international relations: not only business economic relations but human relationships, I want to stress that immediately.
I think this concept, this Silk Route project begins to be a key part of the soft power of China’s public diplomacy.
As a philosophy of its millenary history China seeks to involve all actors and to ensure that there are no winners and losers. And this new Silk Route creates certainly a very flexible dialogue formula with an enormous amount of actors, from the neighbouring countries in Central South-East Asia, to the transit countries of the Middle East, the countries of North Africa, and finally Europe. It’s a great route that allows China to offer, to propose the dialogue, the development, successful infrastructures for all the players, not just for the offeror. This is an essential point.
Today, current maps of the new Silk Route, land and maritime maps, do not exclude any more the involvement of Russia: that is an act of great wisdom, of great importance. I think the idea of the Russian Federation and its allies to create a free trade space – as it is consolidating now-, if it will be involved in the new Silk Route, will help the development of this great project due to the Chinese initiative. Then again, although there could be potential reasons of contrast, the wisdom of the Chinese authorities has not excluded Russia from this very important global project.
This is a project of exceptional interest for Europe. It has a direct influence on the Western Balkans area, which is a few tens of miles from the coast of Italy, my country, and therefore has an impact on the neighbourhood. We have already seen the launch of important and concrete initiatives: I’m thinking of the railway Belgrade-Budapest and its extension towards Athens and the port of Piraeus. But I think this new Silk Route in the Balkans and Central Europe will surely bring initiatives for development and growth. Actually, looking at the map of the new Silk Route, we consider also Venice, and consequently Italy, as the geographical crossroads of various sea and land directions: this is an infrastructure project, as already said; a project that is developing wealth, developing networks which are much cheaper – and in many cases much faster- than traditional sea routes for trade (and that has been proved). But –this is the most important aspect – the new Silk Route is a political project for peoples, it’s a cultural project, it’s a project that promotes contacts and meetings between populations: a project that goes beyond the purely economic dimension.
We could basically say that the initiative One belt, one road, the big New Silk Route, is a proposal, an offer, a public initiative for the sake of the whole world, not only for the benefit of China, which will however exercise a great influence of soft power through this initiative.
I can remember the ancient wisdom of Confucius, who used to say “he who wants to succeed, he must allow others to succeed”. This is a philosophy according to which, if we work together, if we collaborate, everyone wins: there is no winner or loser.
And so, after many centuries, I think this new Silk Route will once again be the instrument – as it was then, at the time of Marco Polo and Matteo Ricci – for bringing together peoples, those who travel for business meet other people, exchange their ideas and not just their goods. This is the old idea that the new Silk Route wants to recover.
From the side of Europe, we Europeans will seize this opportunity. My country is certainly among those who are mostly interested in that: for geographical reasons; for the excellent relations that we already have with the Chinese authorities; but also for a strategic issue. Italy has always strongly worked for a Europe able to promote growth, infrastructure, wealth, not a Europe of divisions and selfishness. This role of Italy is perfectly fitting.
And what will it take? We will firstly need that Europe be united, and there be no divisions between Eastern European countries and countries of the so-called “old Europe”, such as Italy, France, Spain, Germany. I think the interest is common.
The other key point is that we are not afraid and we should not be afraid: on the contrary, we must encourage this initiative. I heard voices of European concern when China decided to finance the fast railroad Budapest-Belgrade, but the project was rightly started. Not only we should not be afraid, but also we should encourage an expansion of infrastructural networks, a widening of the initiatives favouring the links among goods and peoples, because this would enrich Europe as a whole and not in its divisions.
In conclusion, let’s show China, when coming to a draft of such global importance, that there is a United Europe, capable of taking political decisions, capable to choose, without hesitation, the road of growth, sustainable development, infrastructural collaboration.
This is certainly the Europe which the founding fathers – from De Gasperi on – had in mind. This is the Europe the current leadership should face.
Thanks to CIRSD for organizing this initiative