The coordinator of the China project of the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna of Pisa and Co-Director of the Confucius Institute of Pisa interviewed by Città della Scienza

“International cooperation is certainly an important initiative that can have great impact and represent an opportunity not to be missed to strengthen bilateral relations in universities, science and innovation in a very promising area such China is, both in terms of growth and investments for research and development, both of attention from the central government with policies to support projects such as the one we are developing “. It is the thought of Alberto Di Minin, interviewed by Città della Scienza, as part of the internationalization activities of Italy – China, and coordinator of the China Project of the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Co-Director of the Confucius Institute of Pisa and Director of the Italian Institute Galileo Galilei based in Chongqing. Di Minin is also responsible for the activities of a group of researchers and managers to promote collaboration between Italy and China.

“The West of China is the fourth pole of Chinese development: after the traditional poles of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, this area is destined to be one of the engines of China of the future”, continues Di Minin. “Italy has wisely invested in the region by opening a Consulate General to which a Scientific Advisor is assigned. Cooperation projects in innovative sectors such as this can help to better capitalize on the results obtained and to oversee the region. In fact, implementing this type of international initiatives and, more generally, the platforms supporting the scientific and technological cooperation between Italy and China can facilitate our country to obtain a privileged partner status with an increasingly important interlocutor such as Beijing. In addition, the National High-Tech Zones – special areas for development based on scientific and technological innovation present in various districts of Chongqing – are particularly favorable for research companies and Italian companies that want to support Chinese counterparts, finding new financial resources and new markets. Of course we need to make sure that the value of the research is then equally shared by the partners, not just immediately “.

You coordinated the agreement signed by the university you work in with the University of Chongqing for the creation of a Sino-Italian innovation base camp in Chongqing, with the support of the Bishan district government of the Chongqing Municipality. What is the state of the art, the advances, the objectives set and shared by the two countries? In which sectors is this collaboration focused?
The trilateral agreement was signed on February 22nd, 2017 and includes a two-year pilot phase in which the Sant’Anna School has undertaken to carry out a feasibility study for the creation of the Sino-Italian Innovation Base Camp (SIIB- Camp), which will be born on three square kilometers of land within the National High-Tech Zone of the Bishan district.
The aim of the agreement is to create a center for the development of joint research and training programs, as well as technology transfer activities and start-up incubation. The Galilei Institute, based at Chongqing University and administered by Sant’Anna School, which acts as a bridge between Italy and Chongqing, coordinates the activities and funds put into this phase by the Bishan government. A platform serving the country.
12 months after signing the agreement, the Sant’Anna School has set up an Italian and Chinese team employed full-time for the center, and a dozen cooperation projects between Italy and Chongqing are under development. The School’s task is also the involvement of other university partners and of the Italian research world, together with large companies, start-ups and financial institutions that want to invest in the area. An Italian Scientific Committee was in charge of the project, formed by the institutions that have become partners of the SIIB-Camp, including the Polytechnic University of Turin, the University of Bergamo, the University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli, the University of Pisa.
The collaboration between the parties is concentrated in the common areas of the Belt and Road Initiative and Italian national development strategies, which integrate “Made in China 2025” with the “Industry 4.0” plan, including: automotive engineering, biotechnology, management innovation, nanotechnologies and advanced materials. In December 2017 the pilot project was launched: a Joint Research Laboratory on Augmented Reality, Virtual Environments and Artificial Intelligence technologies, financed by Chinese side with private and public funds – 30 million.

You are also a representative of NETVAL, the association of Italian universities and public research bodies involved in the exploitation of research results, within the Italy-China Technology Transfer Center. How do this collaboration take shape?
The Italy-China Technology Transfer Center (CIITC) is the national platform of Sino-Italian business-oriented cooperation, aimed at promoting the internationalization of the research-enterprise systems of the Italy-China axis, economic synergies and collaborations in the field of scientific and technological research. The CITTC also represents the technical partner of the Ministry of Education, University and Research for the organization of activities to enhance research and innovative technologies and to provide services to support technology transfer between Italy and China.
There is therefore a natural sharing of objectives and communion of intent between CITTC and NETVAL. Specifically, NETVAL supports the CITTC activity by providing the network of offices dedicated to the technological transfer of Italian universities and research institutes, together with training, promotion, reporting and analysis services and links with the institutional network.

On the basis of your experience, can you outline the main aspects of bilateral relations between Italy and China and what can you imagine compared to future scenarios?
I think Italy should look to China as an increasingly important scientific and technological partner. This applies both to academic and scientific cooperation and to the industrial sphere. Our country has certainly given a strong signal to strengthen relations with Beijing in this direction, thanks to the numerous institutional visits and the promotion of joint initiatives born in recent years.
At this point it is necessary to identify areas of cooperation of mutual interest, starting from the Chinese concept of win-win cooperation, or a development that is of mutual benefit. Italy must define geographical areas and areas of scientific and cultural cooperation in which to concentrate its resources, in order to aspire to become the lead partner or sole partner of Beijing in the chosen area. This will depend to a large extent on the political choices and actions of the institutions, which may be able to aggregate different actors to “make a system”.