HomeExpansionismItaly Intends to Exit Beijing's Global Initiative

Italy Intends to Exit Beijing’s Global Initiative

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Italy, the first G7 country to join China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), now intends to withdraw from the global infrastructure program, according to Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto.

Just a few months ago, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni expressed that Italy could maintain a beneficial relationship with China without needing to participate in Beijing’s global infrastructure initiative, a statement that sparked considerable debate. The defense minister’s recent remarks are the first official confirmation of Italy’s intent to withdraw from the Chinese-led initiative.

Crosetto indicated that the country is currently exploring ways to pull back from the BRI without causing harm to their relations with China. He described this as the issue of the day, emphasizing that while China remains a formidable rival, it also serves as a vital partner in various endeavors.

As China’s demeanor becomes more authoritarian, its threats to Taiwan and the countries in the South China sea more blatant, and its increasingly predatorial regulatory environment with regard to foreign investment, it seems Italy is starting to get nervous about getting closer to China.

Italy’s decision to enter the BRI back in 2019 sparked surprise among Western allies. Critics argued that it had done little to improve Italy’s trade deficit with China. Over the past three years, Chinese exports to Italy increased by 51 percent, while Italy’s exports to China only saw a 26 percent rise, as reported by Italy’s Trade Agency.

Crosetto criticized the decision to join the BRI, referring to it as a hastily-made and ill-considered act orchestrated by former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government. He expressed dissatisfaction with the resulting trade imbalance, wherein China substantially increased exports to Italy over the past three years without a corresponding rise in Italian exports to China.

Echoing these concerns, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire voiced France’s desire for more balanced trade relations and improved access to the Chinese market, rather than decoupling from China entirely. Speaking in Beijing, he called for the removal of any legislative barriers obstructing access to Chinese markets.

The BRI, a vast global investment program funded by China, seeks to reconnect Europe and beyond through the ancient Silk Road trade route. It provides funding for major infrastructure projects around the world, with the objective of facilitating the speedy delivery of Chinese goods to far-off markets. Critics view it as a mechanism for China to expand its sphere of influence, and Italy’s decision to join the initiative was met with concern from both the EU and the US. Such an infrastructure would have substantial military benefit, which some believe is one of China’s underlying objectives.

China continues to advocate for strengthened cooperation under the BRI. The Chinese foreign ministry emphasized the potential benefits for both China and Italy and launched a diplomatic campaign to encourage Italy to renew the deal, sending senior officials to lobby the Italian government.

Italy’s Prime Minister Meloni is planning a trip to Beijing in the near future, following a recent meeting with US President Joe Biden. She has pledged that her government will make a decision before the December deadline.

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