Italy is discontinuing the 2015 joint police patrol deal with China. It is alleged Italy hosts the greatest number of clandestine Chinese “police stations.”
The bilateral agreement had welcomed Chinese police to patrol scenic spots in Rome, Milan, Florence, and Naples and explained it as a way to provide further protection to Chinese tourists.
According to Reuters, it went into effect between 2016 and 2019 and temporarily halted because of the pandemic. Human rights group Safeguard Defenders believes 2016 was also the year the dubious Chinese police stations were set up in the country.
The group said in their report that Italy has up to 11 of these centers, making it the largest cluster in any country. As the report states, these police stations appear as a center for helping Chinese nationals with paperwork and passport issues, but their other mission is to target dissidents overseas.
Answering Parliament on December 7, Piantedosi insisted there was only one credible station of such background in his nation, located in Prato, Florence. But he also added that it was closed recently.
Safeguard Defenders’ campaign Director Laura Harth rejected the explanation. As Reuters reported on December 15, she said Italy, along with France, were the two governments that were “weaker in their responses, [and] less transparent on what they are doing” about the Chinese police centers.
She also told The Telegraph, “Italy has been particularly reluctant to act. They continue to refuse to recognize the issue. We are not saying they are complicit. It’s just that you would expect a more comprehensive answer. You see a big discrepancy between Italy and the likes of Canada, New Zealand, and the UK.”
Harth doubted if being closed, as the interior minister of Italy said, would mean all risks were gone.
She said, “It’s easy to close down one address but the underlying networks are still operative. I’m sure they will lie low for a while.”
Piantedosi has told Parliament that he is open to sanctions if violations are unearthed. Regardless of his remarks, he said an investigation is ongoing.
Italy has come under fire for allegedly being the weak link in European attempts to counteract subversive Chinese influence. In 2019, against warning from the U.S. and European leaders, Italy became the first major industrialized country to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative. It is an infrastructure project that would help the communist regime expand its commercial reach.