Italy is rumored to be looking at pulling out of the Chinese Communist Party’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) under new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
Bloomberg made the assertion in an April 22 report “according to people familiar with the government’s thinking.”
According to the anonymous sources, Bloomberg added that, “Italy’s dilemma on Belt and Road is starting to draw the US government’s attention,” as Washington and its global bloc ramp up pressure on Xi Jinping.
The Government of Italy signed the country into the BRI in 2019 under former PM Giuseppe Conte, becoming the first G7 country to do so.
MORE ON THE BELT AND ROAD
- Australia Federal Government Cancels Victoria Belt and Road Agreements
- China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ Falters as Beijing Runs Out of Funding
- Coup Against Myanmar’s Suu Kyi Traces Back to Chinese Belt and Road Initiative
Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio told CNBC at the time of signing of 29 deals amounting to €2.5 billion that entering into debt with the CCP was “nothing to worry about.”
You are now signed up for our newsletter
Check your email to complete sign up
CNBC was contrarian on the assertion as it colorized the deal by stating, “Western critics warn of Chinese debt traps and describe the initiative as a ploy to expand geopolitical and strategic influence, while Beijing pursues links to Europe and Africa via South Asia and the Middle East to expedite and increase the export of Chinese goods.”
Di Maio pressed that the desire to sign into the agreement was to allow the export of Italian goods to China instead of importing Chinese goods to Italy.
In a secondary article, CNBC summarized the complex dangers for a country deciding to indebt themselves to a country ruled by the Communist Party, “The BRI is something of a 21st century Silk Road with the sea and land route stretching from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and now into Europe…At the heart of concerns is that the BRI is seen as a way for China to spread its geopolitical influence — an acute concern for a Europe increasingly uncertain of its place in the world.”
A 2021 article on the BRI by the NGO Chatham House claimed to the contrary that the Initiative isn’t a “debt trap,” but “rather as a fragmented collection of bilateral arrangements made on different terms.”
“The Chinese government has never published detailed information about the size and terms of Belt and Road loans. This vacuum of information feeds confusion and mistrust,” the NGO added.
Bloomberg explains that the wish for Meloni’s government to separate from mainland China may be tied to relations with Taiwan, which has strategically positioned itself as a crucial cornerstone of the global semiconductor industry with market leader Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited (TSMC), which neither the CCP’s state-owned nor pseudo-private enterprises are able to compete against.
The Taipei Representative Office located in Rome told Bloomberg that Italy plans to invest $400 million in the Taiwanese semiconductor industry.
Vincent Tsai, head of the Office, told Bloomberg that the investment from Italy is of specific interest to Taiwan because, “On semiconductors, Italy has some strategic advantages compared to other EU countries, manufacturing capacity and research and developments.”
Bloomberg’s sources were paraphrased as stating that although Meloni and her party want to dump the BRI, opposition parties want to maintain it.
The division inside of Italy’s government was elucidated in a June of 2021 article by Foreign Policy titled Italy Has Learned a Tough Lesson on China, which criticized Luigi Di Maio for “parroting” the CCP’s “noninterference mantra” during the historic 2019 Hong Kong anti-communism protests and a leader of the Five Star Movement, Conte’s Party, Beppe Grillo, for “echoing Beijing’s propaganda on his blog.”
“Most recently, Grillo together with Vito Petrocelli, a Five Star senator and the chair of the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee, endorsed a report on Xinjiang that equates well-documented allegations of human rights abuses with ‘highly politicized anti-China campaigns…most often reporting baseless, unverifiable, or false information,’ Foreign Policy stated.
Francesca Ghiretti, an analyst for the Mercator Institute for China Studies was quoted by Bloomberg as saying both Meloni and the country are between something of a rock and a hard place on the BRI because, “Renewing it would send a very difficult message to Washington, but not renewing it would put a strain in relations with China.”
When the Conte administration signed the contract in 2019, the U.S. Government under the Trump Administration spoke out, calling the BRI a “vanity project,” Reuters reported at the time.
“Italy is a major global economy and great investment destination. No need for Italian government to lend legitimacy to China’s infrastructure vanity project,” spokesperson for the White House’s national security advisors, Garrett Marquis, stated on Twitter.
A 2021 article published in The Diplomat titled The Belt and Road In Italy: 2 Years Later explained that as time progressed following Italy’s joining the BRI, several of the projects denoted in the contracts simply did not transpire.
One involves agreements between the Port of Genoa and the Port of Trieste and the state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), described simply as, “In brief, so far, there has been a lack of developments in the collaborations in this sector and it seems there will not be any in the future.”
One concrete “BRI terminal” in Vado Ligure, The Diplomat states, predates the BRI agreement and “dates back to the creation of the joint venture APM Terminals Vado Ligure Spa back in 2016.”
“Furthermore, the joint venture does not involve of CCCC…but of COSCO and Qingdao Port,” authors state.
The article continues, “In other words, so far, the only development in the maritime sector linked to the BRI involves a project that is not part of the [agreements] of March 2019.”
In other examples, a project between the Italian Space Agency and China National Space Administration to launch a satellite and an energy industry venture between Ansaldo Energia and Shanghai Electric Power Corp and China United Gas Turbine Technology Co. also predated the signing of the BRI.
However, The Diplomat notes that joining the Belt and Road did facilitate returning 796 “archaeological artifacts” located in Italy back to the mainland.