When, on January 31, 1972, the Ambassador of Malta in Rome, on behalf of the Government of Malta, presented his credentials to the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Rome, history was written.
Dom Mintoff, who became Prime Minister in June 1971, was a visionary and a genius in foreign policy. He severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan, established under the Nationalist government of George Borg Olivier, at a time when the People’s Republic of China was insisting on its one-China policy.
Beijing has agreed to establish diplomatic relations only with countries that have severed ties with Taiwan. Without looking back at how events unfolded on the international stage in the early 1970s, one cannot fully understand why Lord Carrington called Mintoff a true patriot.
The world scenario was changing. During a live television and radio broadcast in July 1971, US President Richard Nixon stunned the nation by announcing that he would visit Communist China the following year.
The statement marked a dramatic turning point in US-China relations as well as a major shift in US foreign policy.
At a plenary session of the United Nations General Assembly on October 25, 1971, Resolution 2758 was passed.
This recognized the One China principle and made it clear that the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing all of China, including Taiwan.
This resolution would never have been taken without the support of the United States. Indeed, in February 1972, Nixon landed in China and spent seven days there.
The ink of the new defense agreement Mintoff signed with Lord Carrington on March 3 of the same year had barely dried when, on March 31, the Maltese Prime Minister headed for China. The Chinese gave a warmer welcome to Mintoff than to Nixon.
Not surprising. This little Malta of less than half a million inhabitants, barely visible on the world map, was determined to transform itself from an instrument of war into an instrument of peace. The Labor government was determined to transform its economy based on UK and NATO service into a prosperous country through industry and tourism.
When Mintoff visited China and signed a financial and economic agreement, some Western countries and conservative forces in Malta, including the powerful Catholic Church led by Archbishop Michael Gonzi, trembled with fear.
Relations between Albania, a hardline communist country in Europe, led by Enver Hoxha, and Red China, led by Mao Zedong, began to cool in 1969, and in 1970 China severed relations with Albania.
Dom Mintoff was a visionary and foreign policy genius-Reno Calleja
It was therefore understandable that when Mintoff shocked the Western world and visited China just a month after Nixon, the United States and Europe suspected that China was closing in on Malta because it had lost an ally. in Europe.
It was completely wrong. China was impressed by Mintoff’s determination to work for peace in the Mediterranean, which was a hotbed of hostility between the United States and the Soviet Union. China has helped Malta transform its economy by building the two largest infrastructure projects even by today’s standards.
These were the Red China Dock, which provided repairs to large tankers in the dry docks of Malta, and the Port of Marsaxlokk (the Freeport) project, where I was Chairman of the Supervisory Board for several years.
One of the historic images hanging in my humble office is a photo of Minister Wistin Abela and myself opening the first phase of the freeport project in 1987, before the Nationalist Party was elected to power.
Unfortunately, a Chinese engineer, Xu Huizhong, was accidentally killed during the construction of Red China Dock. In 1978, when I was a young MP, Mintoff called me into his office and made me the proudest man in Malta at that time.
“Reno, go to Shanghai and present the honor of the Republic to the widow of Xu Huizhong,” he told me.
It was the first time that this medal was awarded posthumously. The solemn ceremony brought together an audience of 3,000 people. I gave a speech in Maltese which was translated by brilliant Maltese student Clifford Borg Marks, who later became Malta’s Ambassador to China.
Xu is buried in Addolorata Cemetery and every year, together with the executive members of the Malta China Friendship Society, I go to his grave to honor him as a martyr. On my suggestion, a street in Paola is named after Xu.
On December 13 last year, I was almost moved to tears when President George Vella presented me with the Medal of the Republic, primarily in recognition of nearly 50 years of work to promote relations between Malta and the China.
A few years ago, during a discussion with a Chinese minister, he asked me: “Reno, why do you like China so much? I answered:
“Because I love Malta more. China has always helped Malta without any conditions.”
His body language suggested he was amused by my response. He took my hand and said, “Reno, China has a marriage of convenience with certain countries. With Malta we have a marriage of love.
In my opinion, these words sum up the unique relationship that exists between Malta and China.
Reno Calleja, former Minister of Labor and President of the Malta-China Friendship Society
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