Sources

Chinese Immigrants Finding Their Digs In Italian Textile Town of Prato

The city of Prato in Tuscany is warming up to its Chinese population. Little by little, Chinese immigrants have taken over the low-end garment industry and adapted to the Italian way of business.

Chinese New Year in Prato (Flavio Casadei Della Chiesa)
Chinese New Year in Prato (Flavio Casadei Della Chiesa)
Marco Alfieri

PRATO - For the first time, in the city of Prato, in central Italy, a Chinese businessman, Wang Li Ping, has just been named deputy president of the Cna, the local association that represents small business owners.

Anselmo Potenza is the president of the Cna. Around his warehouse, the buildings that once housed Italian weavers are today all owned by people of Chinese descent. They possess restaurants, grocery stores, cafes, hairdressers, jewelry stores, but mostly low-end garment factories which produce more than one million items of clothing a day. T-shirts are sold for around three euros, shirts and jeans are sold for around six euros. Prato's Chinese business owners control every single step of the production: from importing the fabrics, cutting, stitching, dyeing, to the sale. Black-market and undocumented and exploited workers are often part of the process too.

The small businesses organization did not elect Li Ping just to send a message. "Years ago we already had a Moroccan lady as deputy president," explains Potenza. "We have around 3,000 businesses in our association, and around 50 of them are Chinese," he adds.

Fifty-four-year-old Wang Li Ping has been in Prato for 22 years. "Chinese businessmen and the Cna are working together to eradicate illicit work," says Wang, "Laws must be respected, Chinese workers must be documented, and to insure this, we have to use the carrot and stick method," he says.

Integration and business opportunities

There are already some results. "When police checked 15 companies which are members of our association, they found that 13 of them were operating within the law," he states proudly. Some Chinese businessmen have started to buy local fabric instead of importing it; others are involved in a plan to improve and save the fashion district. Wang is putting together a group to consult the Chinese community on taxation, laws and bureaucracy. His goal is to associate Cna to another 150 Chinese-owned small businesses. Two worlds that up to now have been apart - the Italian textile industry and the Chinese tailoring sector - are coming closer.

Claudio Bettazzi, Cna's deputy president in charge of legal issues, works side by side with Wang. His wife works at a Chinese company. "Look at these pictures, even my son has Chinese friends, he says. It's not only business and children. Few days ago, at the town festival, there were several mixed couples on the dance floor. The integration is happening gradually".

"Obviously not all 4,000 Chinese companies in Prato will survive, but we are helping them become legal," says Potenza. "It's the only way to make them understand that paying taxes and respecting the rules is the best way to develop their business," he adds.

Prato has 190,000 inhabitants, 40,000 of whom are Chinese. There are still social issues and unfair competition. But even for the industry association Confindustria things are changing.

People are starting to see the commercial opportunities too. "We are the only ones who can build a bridge between China and local small businesses," says Wang. Tourism is an opportunity too. Relatives of the Chinese immigrants come to Prato to visit them. They buy at the local stores, drink the local wine, and sleep in the local hotels. The relationship can be perfected, but something is improving. "We are not missionaries, this is the only way to develop business opportunities," says Potenza.

Read more from La Stampa in Italian.

Photo - Flavio Casadei Della Chiesa

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ