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Major Blow as Italy Considers Exiting China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Italy’s foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, ahead of his three-day trip to Beijing, said that being a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) did not bring the country the expected economic benefits.

“The Italian Parliament is checking the situation. In this moment, the countries without the Belt and Road Initiative, the European countries, are working better than us. For this, Italy will decide if [to] stay or not [to] stay in the Belt and Road Initiative. In the parliament, many parties are against it,” he said on CNBC Saturday.

He said the deal had “failed to meet Italian expectations.”

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The BRI was meant to connect Asia, Europe, and Africa through a “new Silk Road,” via large infrastructure spending. Critics have decried it as a way for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to expand its geopolitical power and economic influence.

“The Italian message is very clear: we want to work with China, we want to be present in China’s market, we are ready for Chinese investment, but as I said, it is important [to have a] level playing field,” said Mr. Tajani, who previously served as President of the European Parliament, as European Commissioner, and is also Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister. “We want to continue to work closely with China, but we must also analyze exports: the BRI has not produced the results we were hoping for.”

Italy is the only G7 country that is a part of China’s BRI, and its withdrawal would mean a major setback for China.

Decision Deadline

The European country is set to make a decision by the end of the year whether it wants to renew its participation. Under the Italy-China agreement, the deal has five-year terms and would renew in March 2024 for another five years if neither party decides to end it this year.

Mr. Tajani did not confirm when Italy would be making its decision, but this is not the first time Italian officials have publicly expressed disappointment with the BRI.

After initially joining in 2019, former Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi froze the agreement for two years when he took office in 2021.

Italian officials have recently been saying that they see other countries maintain good relations with China without such participation, and question the benefits.

In July, Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto said the initial decision to join was an “improvised and atrocious act.” He said it had multiplied Chinese exports to Italy, but did not similarly increase Italian exports to China.

“The issue today is: how to walk back [from the BRI] without damaging relations [with Beijing]. Because it is true that China is a competitor, but it is also a partner,” Mr. Crosetto told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

“We have exported a load of oranges to China. They have tripled their exports to Italy in three years. The most ridiculous thing then was that Paris, without signing any treaties, in those days sold planes to Beijing for tens of billions.”

At the time, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni told reporters during a meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House that Italy would make a decision before December. She pointed out the “paradox” that Italy was the only G7 country participating in the BRI, yet was not even the G7 country with the biggest trade with China.

“We thought that free commerce without rules could solve our problems, could distribute richness, and could democratize systems that were less democratic than ours. Didn’t happen,” Ms. Meloni remarked.

“And the second thing that happened was that systems that were not democratic involved on the institutional side and gained space in the world. Now they are stronger, and we are more weak for we don’t control our supply chains. So what we have to do is rethink.”

Controversial Membership

The decision to join was highly criticized, as BRI has been a controversial project. The infrastructure for the trade routes across three continents is backed by Chinese financing, and critics point out this has left developing countries with debt they cannot pay, while strengthening China’s influence in countries along the route.

In 2019, the deal was signed at a ceremony where Matteo Salvini, Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, was notably Source link

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