By the end of the nineteenth century the Western powers were in a frantic race to secure territorial concessions in China. Italy was the only country to fail in the power grab. In 1899 its prime minister Luigi Pelloux sent warships to the Chinese coast but Rome’s request to lease Zhejiang’s San Mun Bay was refused. The Qing government was convinced, rightly, that Italy was bluffing and unready for war. The Italians tried to find a diplomatic resolution but the Chinese still wouldn’t yield. The failure reduced Italy to a laughing stock among the European powers, forcing Pelloux to resign over his China policy.
Last week the roles seemed to have been reversed, when an Italian mayor took the unusual step of asking the Chinese to buy his town.
Francesco Garofalo has been the mayor of San Sossio Baronia in southern Italy for seven years. Writing on Facebook last week he said: “Wanted: a rich Chinese investor to come and take over the town,” adding that he was making the move because of the city’s dwindling fiscal reserves.
Regular WiC readers should be familiar with Italy’s increasing receptiveness to Chinese investment (see WiC300). Even the revered football club Inter Milan has been sold to the Chinese (AC Milan could be next, see WiC328).
The trend has put Garofalo on alert too. “I should point out that the cost [of buying San Sossio Baronia] would be slightly lower than that of Inter and AC Milan,” the mayor advised, adding that he believed his town would make a very profitable investment because the surrounding region has a lot of appeal for tourists.
In fact, Mayor Garofalo’s plan to auction Italian soil to the Chinese turned out to be something of a ruse. He later told Italian media that he won’t be selling San Sossio but that his Facebook remarks were designed to draw attention to his municipality.
If part of the plan was to attract Chinese interest, it may have been a clever ploy. Garofalo has grabbed the attention of Chinese netizens, for instance, hardly any of whom would have heard of San Sossio before the Facebook move.
Perhaps that is also the reason why Bergamo’s city government named singer Karen Mok its ‘Cultural Ambassador’ last month. The Hong Kong star studied in Bergamo when she was 17. The Italian city is also where she met her first love. Many years later the pair reunited and married, also in Bergamo. The story has made a few headlines in China, so perhaps Bergamo’s residents can expect more visitors…
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