Wednesday, April 8, 2020

COVID-19's road to Italy paved with Chinese intentions



How did it come that COVID-19, birthing in China, immediately jumped to Italy, which has been among the hardest hit by the virus? This happened as two countries with which Beijing shares borders and maintains good relations – Russia and North Korea – remain, if those countries' reporting numbers can be trusted, relatively un-impacted by the virus.

Understanding how the road leading to COVID-19's entry into Italy was paved does not require medical expertise but revisiting political history. Italy's lesson is important to Americans today as 2020 Democratic Party voters came very close to nominating a socialist radical as their presidential candidate.

The potential for COVID-19 to invade Italy began six years ago. It evolved from close ties with China, generated by Beijing's "One Belt and One Road" (OBOR) initiative. In a nutshell, OBOR is a foreign-policy ploy by which China uses investment dollars or loans as bait to manipulate its way into becoming an integral part of a targeted country's infrastructure. As Chinese money oils the deal, contracts always go to Chinese companies that then bring in their own laborers and supplies. Beijing often utilizes prison labor for such requirements.

Armed with patience, China is willing to wait years to reap the benefits of this policy. With Italy, it came quick as it became the first and only G7 country to take the OBOR bait.

In 2014, Florence ex-Mayor Matteo Renzi – an ideological twin of Bernie Sanders – was elected Italy's prime minister. Like many Sanders' supporters in America, they were taken in by the socialist utopia promised. Appropriately, Renzi won office under Italy's Democratic Party banner – one more properly symbolized with the "hammer and sickle."

Once in office, Renzi transitioned a smoothly functioning capitalist economy into a failing socialist one. As Giacomino Nicolazzo reported, "Banks were failing … but not closing. Retirement ages were being extended … for some reason the pension funds were dwindling or disappearing. The national sales tax … rose from 18% to 20%, then to 21% and again to 22%" as the government – a socialist economic lion – fed more and more upon the nation's productive work force.

Italy's dire financial situation opened the country up to a savvy foreign investor – and so poised to join the lion in feeding upon Italy's economy was the Chinese dragon. Beijing stepped in to buy real estate, critical infrastructure companies (telecommunications, the chemical industry and the financial sector) as well as Italy's trademark and profitable fashion industry. Much of this acquisition occurred contrary to Italian law; however, Renzi allowed it as Chinese money kept fueling his failing socialist machine.

By 2016, China owned 27% of all major Italian corporations. When Beijing gained control of five major Italian banks, the lion and the dragon scratched each other's backs as these banks were "secretly (and illegally) propped up by Renzi using pilfered pension funds. Soon after, the China Milano Equity Exchange was opened, and much of Italy's wealth was being funneled back to the Chinese mainland," writes Nicolazzo.

Thus, within the European Union, the lion became the dragon's closest partner with traffic between the two countries becoming a major air freeway.

According to Nicolazzo, "Renzi's government afforded the Chinese unrestricted and unfettered access to Italy … many coming through without customs inspections. Quite literally, tens of thousands of Chinese came in through Milano (illegally) and went back out carrying money, technology and corporate secrets."

Ironically, capitalism was playing right into communist China's hands, transitioning Italy into a communist state.

Renzi was followed into office by Matteo Salvini whose brief tenure saw him reduce Chinese clout. However, the communist influence proved too much as Salvini was removed and replaced by Giuseppe Conte, who restored Chinese access.

The bottomline is an estimated 300,000 Chinese citizens relocated to Italy, coming and going at will. With some exposed to COVID-19, it was no wonder the country very quickly became a hotspot.

As is often the case in socialist/communist states, little accountability for treasury disbursements attach, creating a corresponding rise in government corruption. The COVID-19 pandemic focused on this quickly as funds intended to build up the health care system instead were committed to supporting the large Chinese immigrant community. Additionally, millions of dollars sent to Italy after a 2015 earthquake decimated villages east of Rome never made it there.

As unemployment for younger citizens reached 40%, additional health care funding was misappropriated to pay them a guaranteed income. Meanwhile, to create more tax income to cover shortages, officials even concocted a scheme by which occupants in buildings with balconies casting a ground shadow had to pay a "public shadow tax." One only wonders whether the act of breathing will become taxable.

Assisting in COVID-19's spread was political correctness. As the U.S. blamed China for the virus, local Italian officials implemented "Hug a Chinese Day" to dispel claims of racism on Italy's part. Videos from Italy show Chinese in areas heavily trafficked by pedestrians with signs inviting a hug. Weeks later 800 Italians would die within a 24-hour period. One wonders how many of them participated in the event. And, despite this effort, China soon turned its propagandist compass toward Italy, blaming it and the U.S. for COVID-19's spread.

We now know China knew it had a potentially global health problem two months before acknowledging it. One only wonders whether its Russian and North Korean friends were given earlier warnings due to their low COVID-19 case counts.

Simplified, the road to the current health situation in Italy was not paved with China's good intentions. Italy's desire to transition from capitalism to socialism created a government so firmly entrenched in debt, it saw China's OBOR program as a lifeline. Whether Italy realized it at the time or not, this lifeline would become an anchor around its neck. As those business activities from which China greatly benefited gradually fell under its control, Italy lost any ability to commit funding for its own projects, such as improving the health care industry. A sad reality today as a result is that physicians there trying to save COVID-19 patients are no longer permitted to put those over 60 on ventilators.

Italy is in a socio-economic tailspin of its own creation – allowing control of its infrastructure to be put into the hands of a country unconcerned about Italian citizens, for which thousands now pay a heavy price. After COVID-19 runs its course, Italians can count their dead as the Chinese count their money.


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