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Italy and Asia Today

Asia presents a challenge to Italy—India, China, Japan, Korea or the other “Asian tigers”—that often comes across in the mass media as something threatening. Certainly, the Asian continent is already proving a formidable testing ground, which is sure only to increase in the future, but one not only economic or trade-related, as is continuously being stressed, although the importance of its economic impact is undoubtedly a priority concern.
The challenge, in reality, involves all aspects of relations: the scientific aspect, considering that India alone graduates 300,000 engineers every year; the social aspect, given the fact that we are talking about the most populated nations in the world, from which further migratory flows and different development models could be generated; the intellectual and cultural aspect, since our traditional Euro-centrism has led us to underestimate the contribution of the Far East,  a region rich in traditions, values and philosophies, all of which are deeply rooted in an Asian behaviour that is often highly different to ours; and the religious aspect, where Asia represents a remarkable intersection of faiths and creeds comparable to the Mediterranean and containing within its borders excellent examples of the peaceful co-existence of differing forms of worship.
But, above all, the challenge concerns a more strictly political terrain and our ability to be credible, trustworthy, patient interlocutors capable of fulfilling commitments undertaken and of proposing new ones.
Our prospects for success in the Orient depend on our ability to interact on this new and dynamic Asian scenario; our ability to interpret, to measure supply and demand and the relative benefits for us and our interlocutors. This challenge is not met only on the terrain of economy and finance but also, and above all, on that of values, and the fundamental values that allow Italy to meet it and relaunch it are called freedom, responsibility, fairness, stability and tolerance—i.e. the main principles that underlie all great Western democracies like ours.
Asia was once the land of new markets—today it is land of new partners. And indeed Italy’s goal must not be solely to export goods and services, but to make disseminate its cultural, political and legal heritage in the knowledge that the distinctive features of the Italian genius have inspired admiration and continue to do so, maintaining Italian architecture, fashion and design among the world’s winners.
During the 1990s we perhaps missed a few beats in the development of relations with the Asian powers, as compared with some of the other major European and Western countries, but thanks to some fortunate intuitions we were in the avant-garde during the 1970s and 80s in the political dialogue which China and India, which had not yet reached the international status they enjoy today.
The, precisely in the years in which China and India were rising up as the world economic powerhouses that they are today, our relations with them appeared to have lost their lustre as a result of a series of problems encountered by the Italian productive system.
What is most surprising is the Italian public’s current growing attention for Asia and the Pacific. Ordinary people, business persons small and large, students and young people are all being attracted by things Oriental. A growing number of young Italians are undertaking the difficult task of learning Asian languages and seeking a greater familiarity with Asian customs, cooking, music and even religions. Italian universities are adding courses in response to a rising private sector demand for managers with am in-depth knowledge of Asian business and cultural practices. Spontaneous collaboration between Italian and Asian universities is becoming more and more frequent. Another example of the growing “popular” attention for the Orient can be seen in the success of the exhibition on the Chinese Empire mounted in the last half of 2006 in Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale.
This noteworthy poplar attraction for Asia and Oceania, in addition to that of the government, is easily explained. There is, in general, an increasingly widespread awareness that the countries of Asia and Oceania play a very important and truly essential role in today’s historic events, and that the world’s turning point is fast shifting eastward. Our public and politicians are fully aware that the majority of humanity’s most significant challenges at the start of this 21st century are already being played out in the vast regions of Asia and the Pacific and this will be even truer in the future. The challenges are global ones that will be decisive for all of humanity, such as the control of weapons of mass destruction, sustainable development, environmental protection, the search for energy alternatives, the stability of young democracies, the struggle against pandemic diseases, inter-religious dialogue, the assertion of human rights, and we could name many more.
As both the President of the Republic and the Minister for Foreign Affairs asserted on the Second “Asia and Pacific Day” held in November 2006, our nation believes that it is necessary to intensify and develop relations with those of Asia and Oceania both bilaterally as well as with our European partners, listening to their interpretations and their viewpoints in order to adequately confront the major challenges of this century.
last update: 13/06/2008

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