During a question time session called for by opposition member Giancarlo Giorgetti, foreign minister Luigi Di Maio finally cleared the air about Italy’s position on the current Chinese takeover of Hong Kong.
Following a year’s worth of protests – ironically driven by Beijing’s interference in the semi-autonomous city’s legislation – Chinese authorities recently passed a highly controversial security law, de facto voiding Hong Kong’s high degree of democracy and superseding its legislative bodies.
This happened 27 years before the supposed incorporation of Hong Kong into mainland China’s political orbit under the Sino-British agreement signed in 1997.
Mr. Di Maio, who is also leader of the governing Five Star Movement, declared that as far as Italy was concerned, the new law “undermines the principles behind the ‘one country, two systems’ agreement” and impairs “the autonomy and independence of the judiciary, the rule of law, the fundamental liberties system.”
The foreign minister also stressed the importance of a pan-European cooperation, asking the EU and member states to “keep bringing up the matter with a single, united voice” in their dealings with China.
How far the European Union is willing to go remains a matter to be seen. The bloc stopped short of imposing sanctions on China while unleashing them on Turkey. As Europe’s High Representative Josep Borrell encourages a “coordinated” response and deflects some responsibility onto single member states, Beijing’s mouthpiece newspaper Global Times wrote “EU’s China measures only ‘symbolic’” on its front page.
Mr. Di Maio stressed that the government had expressed similar views seven times in the past month, despite the lack of an official statement by prime minister Giuseppe Conte.
Opposition members have condemned the Five Star’s previous inaction on Hong Kong. The League’s leader Matteo Salvini called their silence “embarrassing” at a protest flash mob in front of the Chinese embassy in Rome earlier this month.
The Five Star have been historically closer to Beijing than other Italian political parties. In March 2019 they were instrumental in the signing of a memorandum of understanding between China and Italy for the latter’s adherence to the former’s massive infrastructural and commercial project, the Belt and Road Initiative, sometimes referred to as the New Silk Road.
Five Star’s governing partners, who are members of the Democratic Party, have sided with the EU in condemning Beijing shorty after the imposition of the new security law in Hong Kong.