The world was unprepared for such loss. As the first European Union (EU) country to lose more than 30,000 lives to the Covid-19 virus, Italy has suffered heavily in the pandemic. It’s death toll escalated to become the highest in the EU and third highest in the world.
In March 2020, when Italy hit its peak of infections, the country reported its highest 8,000 new cases per day. The death toll reached an average of 900 deaths each and every day.
Italy also became a gateway for the virus to enter into Europe and Africa. Shortly after Italy had been overwhelmed with infections, Austria, Croatia, Greece, Sweden, Switzerland, and Algeria reported their first cases – all linked to travelers from Italy.
In contrast, on the other side of the world, the island of Taiwan, situated only 81 miles away from mainland China, managed to prevent the virus from having a significant impact on its people and economy. As of June 8, 2020, Taiwan’s total confirmed cases are 443, with 7 deaths. At the peak of infections, also during March, just over 20 daily cases were recorded, with a 98% recovery rate.
So why was Italy devastated by Covid-19? Why was Taiwan, just a short distance, 80 miles away from China, spared?
The answers could lie in a multitude of factors, but some obvious differences may provide an eye-opening perspective.
Italy and Taiwan: Basic Comparisons
Comparing the two countries, Italy is larger with 60 million residents over 301,000 square km. It has three times the population and is about eight times larger than Taiwan in terms of size. Yet the island of Taiwan–with its 24 million residents over 36,000 square km–is around four times more densely populated, putting the island at a disadvantage in terms of containing the virus’ spread.
Both cultures cherish the traditions of several generations living together in one household, making it easy for human to human transmission between family members.
Traffic Between China
Another issue to consider when thinking about human to human transmission is travel and commerce between mainland China.
Italy has been one of the most favored European destinations for Chinese travelers since 2018, according to Luca Ferrari, Italian Ambassador to China. Rome and Beijing have signed new agreements with aviation departments to triple the number of flights from 56 to 164 flights per week.
“In 2019, we saw a 20 percent increase in visas issued. We received over three million travelers from China,” says Ferrari. “I believe that number will be four million this year (2020).”
Additionally, many Italians in Northern Italy sold their leather goods and textiles factories to China, consequently flooding the region with thousands of Chinese workers from the cities of Wuhan and Wenzhou. Direct flights connected northern Italy and Wuhan to meet demand for Chinese travellers. Christmas and New Year would have seen a lot of traffic between the epicentre of the virus and Italy.
At the same time, Taiwan’s traffic from China was one of the largest in the world, causing experts initally to predict that it would become the next coronavirus hotspot. China and Taiwan have an agreement to allow banks, insurers, and other financial service providers to work in both markets. Businesspeople from mainland China and Taiwan cross borders frequently.
In December 2019, cross-strait flights carried a weekly average of 154,000 passengers between mainland China and Taiwan. There’s also additional road and sea traffic. The number of travellers would have grown significantly during the January 2020 Chinese New Year holidays. It’s safe to assume that there were at least eight times as many travellers from China to Taiwan as from China to Italy during December 2019 and January 2020, when COVID-19 had began to spread.
Taiwan also kept its borders open between the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau until mid-March, although flights were suspended on January 26. Looking at Taiwan and Italy, Taiwan seems like it would have been hit hardest by the virus.
Taiwan – Cautious Ties with Communist Government
What’s really interesting, however, is the story that reveals itself when looking at the two countries’ relationship with mainland China.
Taiwan has been governed independently from mainland China since 1949, with its own democratically elected government since 1992. It’s relationship with mainland China is complicated. To a certain extent, mainland China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner, accounting for nearly 30% of trade. In 2018, trade reached $150.5 billion.
However, this “closeness” isn’t reflected in people’s hearts. Many people of Taiwan–who identify as distinctly Taiwanese–continue to hope for complete Taiwanese independence. The “one country, two systems” framework was rejected as unacceptable.
On the other side of the strait, Beijing has always played unfairly, enticing other countries to break diplomatic ties with Taipei. Beijing has openly threatened to “employ non-peaceful means” to protect its national sovereignty, while forcing an anti-secession law on the island in 2005. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army “continues to develop and deploy advanced military capabilities needed for a potential military campaign” against Taiwan.
What most differentiates mainland China and Taiwan the most are their values and cultures They are miles apart. While the Chinese communist party (CCP) has spent decades demolishing China’s heritage and applying coercion and manipulation to subdue its citizens. Taiwan is just the opposite. The Taiwanese celebrate their traditional values and cherish authentic Chinese culture and Democracy. People are very aware about the Chinese communist regime’s history of deceptiveness and lies.
Knowing the nature of the CCP, Taiwan was quick to act against the threat of a new virus. The island was immediately put on alert at the first signs of trouble.
Taiwan–Timeline of early events:
December 31: In the early hours of New Year’s Eve, Luo Yi-jun, deputy director for Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control, stumbled upon an online thread about cases of a mysterious pneumonia. It included screenshots from a group chat with Dr. Li Wenliang–the first Chinese whistleblower–who warned about several SARS-like cases that had erupted in China’s Wuhan. Luo immediately emailed colleagues to raise alarm.
January 1: Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) immediately began implementing inspection measures for inbound flights from Wuhan, China.
January 5: CDC began quarantining all individuals who had travelled to Wuhan within 14 days, who tested positive after screening for 26 known pathogens, including SARS.
January 24: Taiwan stopped exports of its surgical masks, 3 days after it confirmed the first case of COVID-19 infection and domestic demand surged.
February 6: All cruise ships were banned from docking at Taiwanese ports.
Rationing system for masks was launched to allow even public distribution.
Taiwan received international praise and approval for early deployment of control measures and follow-up actions. The island never became a hotspot. Because it prevented a mass lockdown that could have devastated the economy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasted the island’s 2020 annual gross domestic product (GDP) with a decline of only 4%, lower than the average 6% of most developed economies.
Italy – Covid 19’s Launch Pad to Europe
Turning to the West, Italy has been naive in its trust of the CCP. Long before the Wuhan virus blanketed Italy, China’s communist flag had been unfurled from Venice to the Vatican to appease and goad along lucrative trade deals with the world’s second largest economy. Italy’s close partnership with the CCP indicates that its fate may not have been accidental. Behind the surface may lurk a story of morals.
Many Italian politicians were aware of the origin of the Chinese communist party’s (CCP) flag. Metaphorically, and literally stained red with the blood of innocent Chinese citizens through its numerous campaigns and persecutions. However, Italy wanted China’s tourists and its business. They were willing to turn a blind eye to China’s rampant corruption and human rights abuses.
The Vatican’s New Love – Communism
In 2013, reports emerged about Pope Francis’ firm political stance against right-leaning, pro-free market economic policies. Pope Francis pointed to modern capitalism as the world’s new “evil.” He condemned the United States for not fully embracing Socialist policies and ideologies.
Shortly after the Communist seizure of power in 1949, China demanded Chinese Catholics cut ties with the Vatican. Within China, a communist party memeber has to reside over all church affairs.
In 2018 saw the new CCP-Vatican deal finalised. Experts described it as an example of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s Sinicization of religion–to make the presence of the faith compatible with China’s Socialist ideology. While the Vatican regained some degree of legitimate access to Chinese Catholics through the agreement, it is largely allowed the Chinese communist party to assert control over the foreign organization in Chinese territory.
“The CCP has “murdered” the Catholic Church in China, while the Vatican idly stood by,” said Hong Kong’s Cardinal Joseph Zen, who appealed to the world’s 223 cardinals to take action.
The Belt and Road Initiative
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) [一路一帶], believed by many to be Beijing’s Trojan Horse for CCP-led regional development and military expansion. Also referred to as the “new Silk Road”, it was launched in 2013 to expand China’s economic and political influence from east Asia to Europe.
In March 2019, Italy became the first G7 nation to join the initiative. Meanwhile, foreign ministers of other G7 nations jointly expressed distrust of China over intellectual property theft, market access, its military ambitions and human rights abuses. Italy’s signing of the memorandum culminated in a long-standing economic relationship between Rome and Beijing.
Economic cooperation between Italy and China dates back to the 1980’s. China asked Romano Prodi–President of Italy’s Institute for Industrial Reconstruction–to build a factory in China’s Tianjin, while China would help him build a factory in the Soviet Union. In 1997, Prodi led a massive trade mission to China, bringing over 100 joint venture companies to advance in engineering, pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, textiles, fashion, and finance.
Modern Italy certainly has its weak spots. It’s been suffering a chronic 10% unemployment rate and a high degree of fragmentation and instability that’s led to often short-lived coalition governments. It is one of the most indebted countries in the eurozone. Naturally, the CCP has targeted Italy as a place to expand its Chinese influence–pursuing it as an opportunity into the continent of Europe to expand its power.
“Unfortunately, Russia and China are both taking advantage of a unique situation to advance their own interests,” said Defense Secretary Mark Esper according to La Stampa on May 4. “Russia provided medical assistance to Italy but then attempted to use that assistance to drive a wedge between Italy and its allies with a disinformation campaign… Huawei and 5G is a prime example of this malign activity by China.”
Enrico Fardella and Giorgio Prodi of the University of Bologna say that Italy, with its many ports, was easily drawn into the BRI for economic reasons, because maritime transport is an important part of the BRI. The vast majority of China-Europe trade travels on ships. Greece, for example, boosted Chinese trade by 10% since China acquired the Port of Piraeus. Italy feared competition from other European nations like Greece, worrying that China-Europe trade would entirely bypass Italian ports and railways.
The “One Virus Initiative”
There’s always a risk when shaking hands with communists–especially those whose bloodied hands continue to be responsible for mass “murder”. Italy naively failed to see the consequences and the strings attached with BRI–a project now nicknamed the “One Belt, One Road, One Virus Initiative”.
BRI financing could leave Italy further indebted–that risk was predictable. But the pandemic to come and the extent of Beijing’s deceit in covering up the seriousness of the virus was something Italy had no way of expecting.
Italy–Timeline of early events:
February 1: While the U.S. and Asia were closing borders and instilling social distancing measures, the Italian city of Florence was busy celebrating its “Hug a Chinese Day”. The campaign was started by the Mayor of Florence to address “discrimination” and “coronavirus racism” against Chinese.
Florentines were encouraged to embrace the city’s 4,000 Chinese immigrants–including those from Wuhan–and publicly express Italy’s friendship with China by posting photos on Twitter and Facebook.
Chinese people were seen on the streets with signs hanging from their necks reading: “Please hug me! I’m a Chinese, not a virus!”
The trend quickly spread to other parts of Italy. With around 330,000 Chinese in Italy, that’s potentially a lot of deadly hugging during a pandemic.
Naturally, Beijing welcomed Florence’s Hug a Chinese Day and promoted it through CCP mouthpieces CGTN and Global Times as a campaign to “eradicate prejudice”.
February 2: Italy closing its borders to China offended Beijing so much that Italian President Sergio Mattarella wrote an open letter to Xi Jinping, reassuring China that it could rely on Italy.
February 13: President Mattarella hosted a concert at the Presidential Palace with a Chinese pianist, to express “solidarity with China” and to look ahead at the China-Italy cultural tourism year of 2020. Among the guests was Chinese ambassador to Italy Li Junhua.
Dr. Giorgio Palù, a professor of virology and microbiology of the University of Padova says Italy’s concerns over “politics” hampered Rome’s response to the pandemic.
“There was a proposal to isolate people coming from the epicenter; coming from China,” he says. “Then it became seen as racist.”
The Italian government despised the idea of singling out travellers from China for quarantine, for fear of upsetting the CCP.
“There’s too much politics in Italy,” Dr. Palù added.
The death toll in Italy later even surpassed official figures of the epicentre, Wuhan.
“We think that’s how the virus got to Italy early. Initially, the government didn’t realize how dangerous it was going to be,” says Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. “It dealt with it initially as sort of a small town, local regional problem, and then–boom, it exploded.”
Culture and Tourism In Exchange with CCP Virus
While the world gradually awakens from the devastation of the pandemic, Italian politicians still appear to be sleepwalking under the communist’s spell–being made to dream about a glorious future with China.
With talks of a potential post-pandemic Cold War between the U.S. and China, Italian politicians from the Five Star Movement, like Alessandro Di Battista, promotes that Italy had better form a strong alliance with Beijing. “China will win the third world war,” he said.
2020–“cultural exchange” is taking stage again. Even after all that has happened with the pandemic, China and Italy are celebrating the Year of Culture and Tourism 2020 this whole year, to mark 50 years of diplomatic relations.
“The upcoming Year of Culture and Tourism comes after the agreement of top leaders of the two countries as well as the will of the two governments to enhance the relationship between the two countries,” said Luca Ferrari, Italian Ambassador to China, on January 15.
In a congratulatory letter for the opening of culture and tourism, Xi Jinping pointed out that China and Italy were outstanding representatives of Eastern and Western civilizations, and had complemented each other millennia ago, thanks to the ancient Silk Road.
One can’t help but dismay at the leader of an atheist regime who stands for modernism, talking about representing ancient Eastern civilization.
The deliberate rejection of China’s cultural traditions, and attacks on Confucian teaching and classical Chinese began long before the Cultural Revolution–even before the CCP’s founding on July 23, 1921. It really began with the New Culture Movement of the mid-1910’s to 1920’s.
“Many prominent Chinese intellectuals… anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, liberals, socialists, Marxists, nationalists–shared an antipathy to many traditional elements of Chinese culture and language, from religious and philosophical traditions, to “folk superstition”, to Confucianism, to yin-yang and five phases cosmology, to Chinese medicine,” writes Kaiser Kuo, in No One Has Destroyed Chinese Culture Quite Like the Chinese.
The CCP really can’t take credit for China’s ancient civilization. What happened in the Han Dynasty 30 BCE to 1453 CE has been largely destroyed by the communist forces since it took control of China under Mao Zedong
During Xi’s visit to Rome in March 2019, the two countries signed 29 deals worth 2.8 billion USD. The deals included commitments to open Italy’s ports to Chinese investment, partnership between Chinese and Italian banks, contracts for Italian companies in agriculture, finance, engineering and energy sectors.
Ironically, Covid-19, the virus from China, negated all of its gain through Xi’s contracts. The International Monetary Fund forecast a 9.1% drop in GDP for Italy in 2020.
A new strain of rhetoric has become increasingly prominent in Italian politics in recent months, with public debates depicting China as counterbalancing a malevolent Europe.
US President Donald Trump, while offering aid to Italy, expressed his concern that the European countries may find itself withdrawing too deeply into China’s embrace.
However, recent polls show that Italians consider China to be their top “friend”–and Germany and France, their “enemies”.
It’s scary to think what the future may hold for Italy, if it’s not able to place the CCP’s influence into proper perspective. If the Covid-19 virus wasn’t enough to shake off the illusion of a glorious communist China, what will it take for Italy to wake up?