Italy may exit ‘New Silk Road’ – FT
Italy is planning to hold talks with China on potentially quitting Beijing's ‘Belt and Road’ (BRI) infrastructure and investment project, the Financial Times reported on Thursday, citing government officials.
Rome became the only G7 country to sign up to the pact in 2019, sparking harsh words from Washington and Brussels.
Italian participation will automatically be renewed in 2024 unless it actively exits the agreement.
“We want to maintain good relations with them [China] and work to avoid problems from escalating,” an Italian official told the FT, adding that Rome did not wish to “antagonize” Beijing.
Along with other EU members, Italy has been caught up in rising tensions between the US and China that have been exacerbated due to Beijing’s close ties with Moscow.
“Given the state of relations between the US and China, we cannot remain an ally of the US and at the same time remain in the BRI,” Stefano Stefanini, Italy’s former ambassador to NATO, was cited as saying by the FT. “We have to try to negotiate a peaceful — or [the] least damaging possible — exit with the Chinese.”
Bloomberg reported last month that Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni intended to make an announcement on Italy’s participation in the BRI before the G7 summit in May, but was still undecided as to whether the memorandum of understanding should be scrapped or renewed.
Reports earlier this week claimed that the Italian premier had previously assured US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy that her government was in favor of an exit.
The purported plans have triggered deep concern in Italy’s business community, already reeling from sanctions on Russia, as the post-Covid reopening of the Chinese market is viewed as offering significant prospects. Italian exports to China saw a year-on-year surge of 92.5% in the first quarter of 2023, mostly boosted by a short-term increase in sales of pharmaceuticals.
“A possible withdrawal would lead to a cooling of bilateral relations at a historic moment in which companies and professionals are experiencing a frenzy and a desire to return to the Chinese market,” Mario Boselli, president of the Italy China Council Foundation, told the FT.
The Belt and Road Initiative, unveiled by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, envisages linking China with Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas through a network of seaports, railways, roads, and industrial parks. It is expected to provide effective connectivity and boost China’s cooperation with more than 80 countries around the world. The main goal of the project is stated as promoting peace through trade and development.
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