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Chinese New Year festivities in Milan last month
Chinese New Year festivities in Milan last month

The center-right populist Italian government has recently bowed to Chinese flattery, announcing it was ready to sign a Memorandum of Understanding that will connect Rome and Beijing on a modern Silk Road. At the end of a long, slow path of decline and political confusion, Rome is in bad need of fresh investment to boost its impoverished economy. Italy, which in 1957 helped found the European Economic Community, still counts as one of the most important EU members and is turning its back on Brussels in hopes that distant Beijing can solve its problems.

Italy was once famous for being a nation of Saints, Poets, and Sailors, and until 30 years ago it was a member of an exclusive club: among the five most developed countries of the world. The country was booming in the late 1980s, until the fall of the Berlin Wall. Instead of more prosperity, as arrived in the countries of emerging economies, the end of the Cold War for Italy was the beginning of a disaster. With less U.S. support, and the explosion of a massive corruption scandal, Tangentopoli, Italy stepped through what now seems to be a point of no return. In 1992, the corruption scandal paralyzed the whole country: half of the Italian Parliament was investigated, while the major political parties that ran the country for decades collapsed. As judges were replacing politicians and calling the shots, a political vacuum was created. The void was soon filled by Silvio Berlusconi, the media tycoon, who, after he lost his political sponsors, needed to protect his livelihood. He needed to get into the prime minister's office to cover up his dubious businesses.

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