Italy's new right-wing government appears poised to ignore E.U. and American concerns by joining China's massive 'Belt Road Initiative' infrastructure project.
UNITED NATIONS – Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has reportedly okayed plans for Italy to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a symbolic defeat for American and European officials who view the Chinese infrastructure and influence project with skepticism.
“Italy is definitely quite strategic because of its geographic position and because of the ports that it has.”
Lucrezia Poggetti is a research associate at Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin and says China wants to operate a major trade hub at the western end of its Eurasian trade corridor and has been eyeing the Italian port of Trieste.
“It’s been competing with the port of Pireaus, which is in Greece and as you might know has been bought by China’s COSCO.”
China claims the Belt and Road Initiative is an economic “win-win” that expands market access for Chinese exports while handing countries willing to host new Chinese infrastructure the ability to better connect with the Eurasian continent.
But not everyone is on board. Last year, 27 E.U. ambassadors to China warned that China would seek preferential treatment for Chinese companies at the expense of European competitors, and they expressed concern China would try to cut out E.U. oversight of its projects by making one-on-one deals with European states.
“Now you see the Italians basically going against any advice that has been given at the European level and deciding to go it alone.”
The U.S. has also tried to dissuade countries from joining the BRI, worried each new backer lends greater legitimacy to Beijing and that what is now discussed as an economic and infrastructure project could ultimately take on military dimensions as China acquires controlling stakes in foreign infrastructure.
“The more investments China makes in the port, the more they get control and the more there is a possibility that China does what it likes with those ports. And obviously Italy is a major NATO country, so this would have implications also for the alliance.”