China’s FM visits Italy, in 1st foreign trip since pandemic

ROME (AP) — Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said he emphasized during a meeting with his Chinese counterpart on Tuesday that Italy would be monitoring closely the implications of new Chinese security measures in Hong Kong.

“I reiterated that, together with all our European partners, we have emphasized that Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity, based on the one country, two systems principle, are essential,” Di Maio told reporters in a joint press conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

It is equally essential to ‘’preserve the high degree of autonomy and the fundamental rights and freedoms” guaranteed to Hong Kong citizens, he said.

Rome is the first stop of Wang’s five-nation European tour, which includes France, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway. It is Wang’s first foreign trip since the coronavirus outbreak in China that turned into a global pandemic.

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Wang emphasized China’s support for close ties with Italy, with which it formed diplomatic relations 50 years ago.

The ministers were scheduled for a private lunch after their press statements.

The visiting diplomat’s top agenda item in Europe was expected to be pushing Europeans to guarantee market access to telecom giant Huawei, and broader efforts to keep European countries quiet on Hong Kong and to take Beijing’s side in its tariff war with Washington.

Before the meeting, prominent Hong Kong democracy activist Nathan Law delivered a letter to the foreign ministry asking Di Maio to address ‘’the Hong Kong problems and human rights violations’’ during the meeting.

China’s contentious national security law for Hong Kong is seen by many as Beijing’s boldest move yet to remove the legal firewall between the semi-autonomous territory of Hong Kong and the mainland’s authoritarian Communist Party system.

’’We need to work together to form a strong alliance to go against the authoritarian nature of China″ Law said.

Italy last year was the first major democracy to sign an agreement to join China’s “Belt and Road” initiative. The program includes major infrastructure investments to create a conduit for trade and China’s construction industry. Both the United States and Italy’s European partners see it as a threat as China seeks to project its power.

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This version has corrected the Chinese foreign minister’s full name to Wang Yi, not Wang Li.

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