Since becoming the first country of the G7 nations to sign onto China’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2019, Italy has seen the communist nation infiltrate its mainstream media, including Italy’s news wire service, a national business newspaper, and a tabloid owned by the family of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
“Wherever the readers are, wherever the viewers are, that is where propaganda reports must extend their tentacles.” — Xi Jinping, February 2016
Ahead of a state visit from Chinese dictator Xi Jinping in 2019, the head of the State Council Information Office (China’s foreign propaganda department) Jiang Jianguo told a group of top Italian media figures that the signing of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – China’s plan for world economic dominance – would bring with it “new opportunities for media exchanges and pragmatic co-operation between China and Italy.”
This new co-operation with Chinese propagandists was heralded in with an Italian-language video series of “Xi Jinping’s Classical Quotes” broadcast on Italy’s Mediaset and on Cinitalia, a Chinese-language magazine and multimedia outlet developed for the Italian market by the state-owned China Media Group.
Three months before Xi Jinping’s trip to Italy, a national newspaper owned by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, Il Giornale, began publishing articles written under the name Cinitalia. The paper continues to publish Cinitalia propaganda articles to this day without revealing to its readership that they are in fact carefully scripted articles churned out by a Chinese government organization rather than genuine news. The page makes no indication of Communist Party involvement in the texts.
A magazine published by Cinitalia openly admits that it produces its Italian content in association with the Chinese Embassy in Italy.
Conte Signs Up to Communist China's 'Belt and Road' Initiative https://t.co/DaIC7ofk4a
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) March 23, 2019
On May 9th, Il Giornale published a Cintialia article that suggested that reports confirming China’s genocide of the Uyghur people and other Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang – so far recognised by the British, Canadian, and Dutch parliaments and the U.S. State Department – are “media manipulation of events” crafted to use “human rights concerns” to further America’s foreign policy agenda.
It is currently estimated that there are approximately two million Uyghurs currently in concentration camps in the region, where they have been reportedly subject to forced sterilisation, organ harvesting, torture, brainwashing, gang rape, and murder. The Chinese government firmly denies this but has refused to allow independent observers access to inspect the so-called “vocational training” camps in Xinjiang.
A January article published in the same Berlusconi paper titled “Walking Around Wuhan” hails the local and national government’s draconian policies for allegedly bringing the city back to normality. The Chinese propaganda article fails to mention that all currently available evidence suggests the coronavirus pandemic began in Wuhan, a claim which the CCP has rejected. Chinese officials have officially taken the stance that the virus originated in the United States, though others have suggested that the virus first originated in Italy. No scientific evidence supports these theories at press time.
More recent Chinese propaganda articles run by Il Giornale include: “Pandemics are won by collaborating without borders“, “Global Health Forum, Xi’s 5 tips for protecting human health“, and “Science, technology, innovation: Xi designs the China of the future“.
The owner of Il Giornale, Silvio Berlusconi, the controversial former Prime Minister of Italy, has been critical of the Chinese regime in the past. However, amid financial troubles in 2017, he sold the AC Milan football club to a group of Chinese investors for 740 million euros ($788m).
“We should improve foreign-oriented communication through trying methods with new concepts, domains and expressions that are understood by both China and the rest of the world, telling the true story of our country and making our voice heard.”
— Xi Jinping’s message to Chinese journalists, November 8th 2020
Another national newspaper in Italy, Milano Finanza, has also been publishing Cinitalia propaganda articles, one of which was picked up by the Italian language version of MSN, hailing China for having “eliminated poverty” – a false claim China makes by artificially lowering the standard of extreme poverty from the World Bank’s threshold of $1.90 per day to the new communist standard of $1.52 per day.
The National Associated Press Agency (ANSA), Italy’s equivalent to the Associated Press (AP) or Agence France Presse (AFP), has also been publishing up to 50 Italian language wire articles per day from Xinhua News Agency, the state-run wire service for the Chinese Communist Party. Again, ANSA does not disclose to its readers that the Chinese government runs and approves all Xinhua content.
This month, the United States forced the Xinhua News Agency to register as a foreign agent, some three years after President Trump’s Justice Department mandated that the Chinese news wire service do so.
Growing Coalition Questions Vatican Silence on China’s Human Rights Abuses https://t.co/dkKRHcI4jO
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) September 29, 2020
Speaking to Breitbart London, Francesco Galietti of the Rome-based think tank Policy Sonar said that the Chinese have “one hundred per cent” infiltrated Italian media.
Dr Galietti said that “China’s massive clout in Italy has more to do with elite capture than with the people, who remain largely hostile vis à vis China.”
He said that much of this elite capture has come as a result of the Vatican’s turn to Beijing by Pope Francis, under whose leadership the Vatican has signed a controversial agreement with the Communist Party in 2018, which grants the Chinese government the power to select Catholic bishops in China. The agreement was renewed in October.
Pope Francis has also been criticised for his failure to condemn human rights atrocities in China, remaining notably quiet on the persecution of religious minorities such as Chinese Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, and the genocidal treatment of the Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Dr Galietti said that the influential Villa Nazareth community, which includes former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, has been instrumental in seeking closer ties with China. Conte, he noted, attended the renewal ceremony of the Vatican-China agreement last year.
“The most effective method of propaganda directed at the enemy forces is to release captured soldiers and give the wounded medical treatment… Whenever soldiers of enemy forces are captured, we immediately conduct propaganda among them…This immediately knocks the bottom out of the enemy’s slander that the ‘Communist bandits kill everyone on sight’.”
— The Selected Military Writings of Mao Zedong
China’s propaganda push in Italy has ramped up during the Chinese coronavirus crisis, according to a report this month from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). At the same time, Beijing was shelling out millions to send medical supplies such as masks, test kits, and personal protective equipment (PPE) to European nations, including Italy.
The IFJ report claimed that in the aftermath of the first wave of the coronavirus, which hit Italy particularly hard, Chinese propaganda outlets began to offer Italian language content to media outlets in the country for free.
One journalist said, “They asked us to give more space to the New Year’s speech of President Xi Jinping. They gave it to us for free, translated directly into Italian. And we broadcast it, of course, not at the best time.”
Another journalist said that offers of free content from the Chinese “often happened at the same time that other news was published that put China in a bad light, how they had handled the Covid [Chinese coronavirus] situation,” and therefore the Chinese regime wanted positive fluff propaganda pieces to counteract the negative press for Beijing during the pandemic.
Breitbart News Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow’s new investigative book, Breaking the News: Exposing the Establishment Media’s Hidden Deals and Secret Corruption, detailed how the Chinese Communist Party paid Western press outlets to publish “advertorials” (news-like advertisements) written by China’s chief English-language mouthpiece China Daily under the name of “China Watch.”
American newspapers including the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Chicago Tribune, Foreign Policy, Houston Chronicle, Boston Globe, among others, have all received money from the Chinese state to run propaganda articles.
The NY Times alone published more than 200 such advertorials, raking in some $50,000 from China Daily. The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal both reportedly took in millions to run similar state-run propaganda. Britain’s Daily Telegraph was also involved in the scheme and only announced that it would cease the propaganda campaign last year.
Marlow noted that the New York Times board is full of representatives from massive international corporations which have either present or future business ties with Communist China, including Facebook, Verizon, and AIG. It is therefore unsurprising, the Breitbart Editor-in-Chief noted, that the NY Times, amongst others, were at the forefront of attempting to discredit the idea that the coronavirus was a result of a laboratory leak in China.
British Newspaper Finally Stops Publishing Paid Propaganda from the Chinese Communist Party https://t.co/BvNQRcVCQE
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) April 15, 2020
China’s influence campaign in Italy has seemingly borne fruit, with a poll conducted by SWG last year finding that 52 per cent of the Italian public view China as a “friend,” compared to Russia at 32 per cent and the United States at only 17 per cent. This was a dramatic increase in popularity for China in Italy, surging by 42 per cent after signing on to the Belt and Road Initiative.
Italy has been a key pillar in the BRI for China, in light of the country’s access to the European Union and its strategic ports for Chinese-made goods. Aside from economic and media ties, the two countries also agreed on joint scientific projects, including between the Italian Space Agency (ISA) and China National Space Administration (CNSA).
Policy Sonar chief Francesco Galietti told Breitbart London that there is some hope for Italy taking a different line on China under the recently installed Prime Minister Mario Draghi, saying that Xi Jinping is not likely to “receive from Rome the imperial tributes that he was entitled to with Conte.”
He cautioned that the Italian parliament is still “full” of Chinese sympathisers.
Breitbart News has approached Il Giornale, Milano Finanza and ANSA for comment. At the time of publication, none had responded.
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