Italy’s Defense Minister said his country is considering opting out of the Belt and Road Initiative with China, calling it a destructive act to enter the program in the first place.
Still, it remains to be seen whether Italy’s conservative nationalist administration will truly clinch its fist against the trade agreement or whether it’s just obligatory blustering in the advent of the deal’s renewal next year.
Italy “supplies a load of oranges to China, China has tripled its exports to Italy,” said Guido Crosetto, co-founder and eminence-chauve of the ruling traditionalist right-wing party, Brothers of Italy, according to Italian media on July 30.
“The decision to join the New Silk Road was a spontaneous and destructive act of Giuseppe Conte’s government,” Crosetto added, reported the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
“The ridiculous thing is that Paris, which did not join the initiative, sold aircraft to Beijing for tens of billions of euros at that time,” Crosetto continued, comparing pears with oranges, but nonetheless.
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It is unique that a defense minister dabbles in economic affairs and makes public announcements on such matters. However, as it turned out, Crosetto also worries about the military consequences that might come with the Belt and Road deal.
“Beijing is becoming increasingly offensive,” Crosetto continued, arguing that Beijing does not only covet economic power. “Today, it announces that it will be the largest player at the military level.”
He described China’s investment in Africa as a “cultural expansion,” and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) no longer hides its intentions. “In comics, the Chinese are portrayed as liberators and the Westerners as exploiters who need to be expelled.”
Italy’s split stance
Yet, Crosetto could not cover up the government finds itself in a painful split stance about China as he seems to oppose China yet is unwilling to risk relations between the two countries. “China is a competitor but also a partner,” he reasoned.
His boss, Giorgia Meloni, prime minister of Italy since October 22, 2022, had a hard time maintaining her credibility as a determined China-critic by admitting it is a “paradox” that Italy is part of the Chinese initiative, even though it is not even among the most economically developed G7 countries trading the most with China.
According to Meloni, this shows that it is possible “to have good relations with Beijing without participating in the ‘Belt and Road’,” the Prime minister said in an interview with Fox News.
The silken noose
Meloni used to be considered a staunch supporter of a free Taiwan. Last year, she made it clear several times in conversations with media from Taiwan that she saw a variety of reasons not to renew the “New Silk Road” agreement, as it is also called.
Among them, she was critical of the actions of the Communist Party regime in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and repeated threats of violence against Taiwan.
“We will decide before December,” Meloni said. According to Meloni, talks with the Chinese government and the Italian parliament are needed on this issue, although before the elections last year, she pledged Italy would opt out of the Initiative, no matter what.
The so-called Memorandum of Understanding, added to the agreement between Italy and China, stipulates that the deal will be automatically renewed after five years.
If one party does not intend to continue. It must notify the other party in advance, meaning it will be renewed in early 2024 if the Italian government does not actively obstruct it.
The question remains whether the rumble in the Brothers’ top echelons about the Belt and Road Initiative is motivated by true resentments to the program or whether they are merely for cosmetic purposes.