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China at center stage in Milan

By Su Qiang | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2015-05-03 13:09

As the Italian expo starts, the Asian giant's accomplishments in food production make it a natural star

In the eyes of Italy's top envoy in Beijing, the Milan Expo 2015 can act as a stage where China could and should play a crutial role.

That's not only because one out of nine visitors is expected to fly there from China, but also because food, the theme of the event, is so related to China.

 China at center stage in Milan

The Expo Gate building is pictured in downtown Milan, northern Italy. The Milan Expo will open in the city on May 1, following the 2010 Shanghai Expo. Stefano Rellandini / Reuters

"Food means a lot to China as it has a huge population, and the Chinese government therefore has a great responsibility to feed such a large number of people," Italian Ambassador to China Alberto Bradanini tells China Daily days before the event's official launch on May 1.

One of Italy's roles is to provide a platform for China's success in the past 30 years and also the advancement in its food industry, says the ambassador, noting that Chinese people are now much more aware of food quality.

Bradanini says China and Italy have many things in common when it comes to food.

"Both countries have a long food history and a long list of delicacies. Chinese families and Italians families devote a lot of time everyday to food preparing. There are few countries like us. Therefore, we can share our traditions," he says.

The ambassador, who has been living in Beijing, off and on, for nine years, speaks highly of China's achievement in feeding its 1.3 billion people and lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty and hunger over the past decades. But he by no means hides his concern over the quality of food produced and consumed in China.

"China has achieved great success in economic growth in the last 30 years, and we can see that for the benefit of the Chinese people, the Chinese government must be proud of that," Bradanini says.

"But the cost is pollution - pollution not only in the air we breathe, but also in the soil and the waters. And unfortunately, food is produced in some places the soil and water are polluted."

He notes that the Chinese government is highly committed to investing money, technology and many other capabilities to reduce pollution in the soil and water.

"It will take some time. I'm sure one day pollution will disappear in China," he says. Not everything can be fixed overnight, but some areas where food should be produced up to certain standards can be identified, he says.

The Milan Expo, which runs until Oct 31, "is a unique opportunity" for China to show how it will address this issue.

"For six months, you can show your capabilities in three pavilions, maybe four or five," Bradanini says, referring to the China Pavilion, the China Corporate United Pavilion and property company China Vanke's own pavilion.

Many provinces and companies in China have applied to take part in the Milan Expo to showcase their technologies and innovation and meet their Italian counterparts.

The ambassador is fairly confident that business opportunities will be developed and deals will be done.

"This very much depends on good ideas we should implement to organize good events, lectures and conferences on specific areas, not only food but everything related to food," he says, citing food packaging, use of robots for food production, and agricultural machinery as examples.

With the China Pavilion being the second-largest foreign pavilion and hundreds of companies seeking to show and share their innovations with foreign enterprises, China will be in the spotlight during the event.

Milan Expo also offers Chinese travelers other reasons to book a flight to this Mediterranean country - many regard Italy as a must for fine arts, ancient buildings and delicious food.

Bradanini is expecting 20-25 million visitors for the Milan Expo, with 1.5 million being Chinese who either will fly from China or travel from other Shengen countries.

"Eighty or 90 percent of the Chinese who go to Europe will visit Milan as well. The Chinese love Italy because of its art, food, fashion, design and scenery," the ambassador says.

Roughly 1 million out of the 9 million tickets sold have been bought by Chinese people, which is a really good start, according to Bradanini.

Chinese and Italian airlines have announced that they will increase flights to meet the ballooning demand of travel between the two countries.

Air China increased flights to Milan to 14 times per week, with planes taking off from Beijing and Shanghai each day.

Starting on May 1, Alitalia Airlines is expected to launch a new flight linking Milan and Shanghai until the end of the exposition.

Italian embassy staff in Beijing have also been working hard to ensure Chinese visitors have a happy journey from the very beginning.

Individual visitors can get their visa in less than two days, though group visitors might take a few more days because more complicated procedures are required, Bradanini says.

Because Chinese travelers are known for shopping with cash, they can be easy targets for pickpockets and robbers overseas.

To ensure that there will be fewer cases in which a pleasurable journey ends in anger and disappointment, Italy is inviting Chinese police officers to patrol with Italian police in certain areas where the crime rate is high and Chinese visitors are flooding in.

"We heard that in some European countries, sometimes Chinese people are attacked, so we asked Chinese authorities to send policemen to Italy. They can work with the Italian policemen to protect Chinese."

The two countries have been discussing joint patrols for a while and are close to signing an agreement, according to the ambassador.

This memorandum might be signed very soon because it was anticipated to be one of the major topics on the agenda of Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni during his visit to China on April 27-29, according to the ambassador.

If the agreement is inked, Chinese police officers could start working with Italian officers in the coming weeks, Bradanini says.

"This will enhance the capability of law enforcement to prevent this kind of incident from occurring."

Song Mengxing and Bu Han contributed to this story.

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