ROME – The friendship between Italy and China has grown stronger as the two countries have stood together in unity, helping each other overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this month, Wuji County in northern China’s Hebei Province donated a batch of medical supplies to Arzignano in the province of Vicenza, including 20,000 medical masks, 200 protective suits and 200 isolation gowns.
Gian Vittorio Campus, mayor of Sassari, located in western Sardinia, expressed gratitude to Ba’nan District in southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality for its medical donations.
“Your very kind action of friendship and the donation of materials to fight against the novel coronavirus disease, the 1,000 suits of medical disposable protective clothing and 5,280 KN95 masks, (are) really welcome and all of us warmly thank you,” said the mayor in a letter.
As the novel coronavirus hit the European country, China has spared no efforts to help it ride out the difficulty, returning the favor after Italy sent supplies to China at a crucial time in the latter’s COVID-19 fight.
On March 18, a charter flight carrying a 13-member Chinese aid team, along with tons of medical supplies, arrived at Milan’s Malpensa Airport. One week later, another charter flight carrying a 14-member Chinese medical team and supplies, arrived at the same airport in Milan.
“China has come to us in our hour of need,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told Italian reporters when asked about the aid.
Days after Conte announced a national lockdown on March 9, tons of medical supplies and equipment were sent from China to Italy, along with a team of medical experts. Chinese and Italian officials have been in communication since then, with experts from the central Chinese city of Wuhan sharing data and valuable experience with their Italian counterparts.
On March 12, two days after Italy’s national lockdown began, a charter flight carrying a nine-member Chinese aid team, along with some 30 tons of medical supplies, arrived at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, as part of China’s efforts to help Italy contain the pandemic.
Five of the nine experts in the team were from southwest China’s Sichuan Province. Twelve years earlier, following the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, a group of doctors and nurses from Italy were among the first group of foreign aid workers to dash in and help.
Upon the Chinese team’s arrival at their hotel, a note with pictures of both Italian and Chinese national flags were displayed in Chinese, English and Italian: “Italy, Rome and Trilussa Palace Hotel welcome you and thank you for your support. We stand together, we fight together, we win together.”
The good relations between Italy and China can be traced back earlier. Last year, Italy became the first Group of Seven member country to sign with China a memorandum of understanding to jointly advance the construction of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative.
In recent years, Chinese tourists have become an increasingly common sight in Italy. And Italian exports to China have grown for at least 10 consecutive years through 2019, according to data from Italy’s National Statistics Institute.
The Italian public opinion about China has grown even stronger during the two countries’ joint fight against the pandemic, according to pollsters.
“The percentage of Italians with a ‘positive’ or ‘generally positive’ opinion about China has grown steadily in recent months,” Maria Rossi, co-director of the polling firm Opinioni, told Xinhua.
Another poll done by the survey company SWG in April showed that 52 percent of Italians considered China a “friend,” a dramatic improvement from just 10 percent a year earlier.
According to Pietro Paganini, co-founder of Competere, a think tank, the aid of medical equipment and advisors “was needed and welcomed” in Italy, and the closer ties between the countries could ultimately be positive for both sides.
Giorgio Cuscito, a China and Far East analyst and a board member with Limes, a geopolitical review monthly, said China’s aid during the outbreak will ultimately help the country’s ‘soft power’ in Italy, and Italy “needed all the help we could get during the darkest period of the crisis.”