Photo taken on May 28, 2018 shows a ceremony held to symbolically mark the start of the third year of law enforcement cooperation between China and Italy in Rome, Italy. (Photo/Xinhua)
In 2017, Italy consolidated its path of full economic recovery, with positive growth also in terms of employment, export and share of global trade. Italy, as China, has gained a lot from going global in recent times: they both share the idea that the only way to fully reap the benefits of globalization while reducing the chances of any side-effect is through dialogue, consultation and mutual understanding. These three words, in fact, are the most useful tools in the international community's hands.
The comprehensive strategic partnership between Italy and China, which has been built up and reinforced in the recent past, can be taken as a good example of what those words mean. In the last few years the political and economic ties between Italy and China have experienced a new impetus. There has been a continuous stream of top-level visits, reflecting the increasing willingness to further promote our bilateral strategic partnership. On every occasion, Italy and China have signed important bilateral agreements in areas such as health, science, technology, space exploration and food safety.
Our partnership has a potential beyond our imagination. Italy and China are the top two countries in the world for the number of sites included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. Indeed, the first twinning was launched last January, between Verona and Hangzhou's West Lake.
But our cooperation is not limited to the celebration of the past and beauty. We are able to look ahead and string together our most innovative scientific knowledge. Last February, for instance, our two heads of state celebrated the launch of "China Seismo Electromagnetic Satellite", an unprecedented joint project to study earthquake-prone areas from the space.
Italy has a lot to offer to help China achieve the goal set by President Xi Jinping, of developing a "Beautiful China": sustainable urbanization, health services, green technology, clean energy, smart design are all areas in which the Italian productive system excels. It is a talent inspired by our history, especially by the Renaissance, and that fits particularly well with the Chinese leadership's objectives.
As China pursues qualitative development and further opens up its economy to the outside world, Italy's exports to China in all these sectors are substantially increasing month after month. In 2017, our exports to China went up by almost 22 percent and the overall trade balance grew by 14.6 percent. This trend embodies the idea of mutually beneficial cooperation at the core of our vision of a "Road to 50" leading to 2020, the last year of the China's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), as well as the 50th anniversary of our diplomatic relations.
A natural consequence of the solid foundation of Italy-China relations is a steady increase in people-to-people contacts, tourism and cultural cooperation. Our consulates in China are dealing with a substantial surge of applications for tourism and business visas: in the first five months of 2018, the number of visas issued by our offices increased by 25 percent compared with 2017. Italian and Chinese police officers are jointly patrolling an increasing number of sites in the two countries, showing mutual trust and providing additional security to our tourists.
Our universities are launching cooperation projects for joint research and academic exchanges. Italian and Chinese entrepreneurs are working together in the context of the bilateral "Business Forum", which will travel in a few days to Dalian, Liaoning province, and Qingdao, Shandong province. With our companies, our ports, our logistics hubs ready to cooperate for mutual benefit, we are looking with strong interest at the development of the Belt and Road Initiative. This is only natural, as Italy is the historic destination of the traditional Silk Road and a natural hub for the new Silk Road.
Such deep partnership needs to be sustained and nurtured on a daily basis. It is true that a great new edifice is not built overnight. All of this would not be possible without the long-standing strong bonds between Italy and China, based on mutual respect and cooperation and the pursuit of excellence. These are the shared features of our two nations, which combine the richness of ancient civilizations with the capacity to innovate, create and surprise.
The author is Italian ambassador to China.