Dialogo è accettare l'altro come è e come egli stesso si definisce e si presenta a noi, di non cessare di essere se stessi mentre ci si confronta con il diverso, di essere consapevoli che la nostra identità esce arricchita e non sminuita da chi di questa identità non accetta alcuni elementi, magari anche quelli che noi riteniamo fondamentali. La riconciliazione è possibile, tra i cristiani e nella compagnia degli uomini. (Enzo Bianchi, priore della Comunità di Bose)

Riccardo Sessa (interview)

di Wang Fanfan

Italian Jesuit Missionary Matteo Ricci died in Beijing 400 years ago, after a lifelong devotion to the communications between the Italian and Chinese civilizations. This year while we commemorate his death, we also celebrate the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Italian Ambassador Riccardo Sessa has been in office since 2006, and he talks to the Global Times about Sino-Italian cooperation in both traditional and newly explored areas.

How will the Italian embassy celebrate the 40th anniversary?

This year marks the 40th anniversary, but this does not mean that our relationship only began 40 years ago. There has always been contact between us, as demonstrated for example by the residents of a village in Gansu Province, said to be Roman descendants. Events will take place mainly around November 6, the official anniversary. The "Year of China" will kick off in Italy in October of this year, a very meaningful celebration that will resemble the 2006 "Year of Italy" in China. Italian civilization has made important contributions to the history of China, a heritage that is clearly visible within the World Art Museum. Several hundred figures are sculpted on the wall, in recognition of their great contribution to the Chinese civilization throughout its history. Among them, only two foreigners appear: Matteo Ricci and Marco Polo.

Could you evaluate the achievements of the political and economic cooperation between Italy and China during your term of office?

Our relations are now in a very dynamic phase. Besides the traditional areas of common interest, we are exploring cooperation in innovative sectors such as science and technology. The trade volume between the two countries has tripled in the past seven years and reached $31 billion in 2009. In same year, despite the financial crisis, Italian exports to China increased by 3.4 percent, and Chinese exports to Italy remained stable in comparison to the previous year. Thousands of Italian companies are doing business in China.

Italy is famed for high fashion, fine cuisine, high-end cars and architecture; how might you see deeper communication between the two countries enhancing the quality and taste of Chinese people in these areas?

The high quality of Italian products is a tradition, not an accident. Nowadays, every country is capable of producing anything, but only the Italians are able to create the best. Through its contacts with foreign countries, Italy transfers its experience and makes contributions to the others. For example, in the 16th century a noblewoman from Florence traveled to a neighboring country and contributed to the development of its cuisine. China is developing a strong interest in the area of Italian high-end products. I am invited to opening ceremonies of various Italian brands almost every month. Aware of the needs of the middle class, we are also introducing relatively cheaper Italian brands to China now. I certainly want to see more and more Chinese people enjoy Italian products.

As an Ambassador, you went several times to Sichuan Province after the earthquake in 2008. What areas do you think China needs to improve when facing natural disasters?

On May 12 of 2008, I arrived in Chengdu airport right after the earthquake, for a scheduled visit. The occurrence of this event made me the first Ambassador to be present in the disaster area, and because of my presence there I was able to report the situation to the Italian government. Within three or four days, Italian aid had reached the area, faster than any other country. I also returned there several times subsequently, to allocate the relief supplies. In terms of disaster relief, no one holds the key to how to do it best, but Italy has ample experience in this regard. In facing natural disasters, Italy has also always paid special attention to the protection and restoration of cultural heritage. We have established important cooperation programs to deal with natural disasters; two months ago my embassy organized a seminar on advanced methodologies and technologies on seismic hazard assessment.

As many as 88 percent of Italians identify themselves as Roman Catholic. How do you see the rapid growth of the Christian population in China affecting the social and political structure of the country?

The development of religion in a country is a very interesting phenomenon. It reflects the religious and spiritual needs of the people. I think religious belief is a personal issue and relates to individual freedom. The development of Christian belief in China is one example of the openness of the country. I can see the Chinese people are in need of religious beliefs, and Chinese leaders have recognized this need, so this is a very positive phenomenon.

Pope Benedict XVI recently praised Matteo Ricci's contribution for opening dialogue between China and the West in a pilgrimage to Ricci's birthplace. In your opinion, what is the most valuable legacy that Ricci has left us?

As a missionary who made his way to China 430 years ago, Ricci engaged in the study of Chinese civilization and adopted Chinese ways and customs. He represents the first cultural bridge connecting China to the West. Ricci "became Chinese," so to communicate with and be understood by the Chinese, while maintaining the characteristics of an Italian and European. Ricci was the first cultural ambassador between Italy, Europe and China. He represents the Italian culture and the way it converses with another culture.

Marco Polo and Matteo Ricci could be counted as the pioneers of our modern expats. Do you see the Italian community in Beijing continuing to grow in the future?

Italians are not the largest foreign community in Beijing, but it is growing. Most are here for economic and cultural purposes, including entrepreneurs, lawyers, architects and professors. In recent years many young Italians came to China to learn and understand the country. This is very important for the relationship between the two countries, because young people bring vigor and energy to communication.

Italians tend to feel loyalty to a region or town, but not the country. You are from Massa. In your identity, does Tuscan come before Italian?

Of course Italians feel very proud of their regional heritage, because their regions of origin have ancient histories and unique cultural lifestyles. For example, Florence was the cultural capital of Europe in the 15th century, so a Florentine will also gladly consider himself a Florentine or Tuscan. But this does not mean he does not belong to Italy. I have worked and lived in many places around the world, and, even though I was born in Tuscany, my roots are in the Region of Campania, in Southern Italy, from where my family comes. There is also a new change in our generation; we are not only Italian, but also European, as you can see from the Italian and EU flags in my office.

China has a great number of soccer fans supporting Italy; and they are pretty disappointed with Italy's performance in this World Cup. Do you have any words of encouragement for the Italy fans here?

I appreciate the support and passion of the Italy fans here in China. Their regret is also our regret. No one had forecast such a result, because in terms of football Italy is considered one of the ancient civilizations. I have noticed that some new teams have played well during this World Cup. We Europeans are teaching the world how to play football. We have an old saying, "every teacher wants the students to exceed him, in every area." But I hope not in football!



Global Times

12 luglio 2010