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China enters Taranto’s seaport via Ferretti Group

Taranto seaport
The Italian city, aided by State funds, approved the redevelopment of a section of its seaport. To the benefit of Ferretti Group, a company controlled by Weichai, a titan in the hands of the Chinese government. Which, in turn, has long eyed the seaport

Cash and China sail into Taranto. The Ionian Sea city agreed to allow Ferretti Group – a leading luxury yacht builder controlled by the Chinese State-owned company Weichai – in a section of its seaport. All while serious development money is flowing into the area.

  • In April, the Italian State earmarked €42 million for the area’s redevelopment.
  • Ferretti Group and the public party (i.e. the State and the Apulia Region) will pursue a project worth over €200 million to establish a shipyard for the construction of yacht hulls.

Buzzword: development. Taranto’s mayor, Rinaldo Meucci, said the investment will “boost quality shipbuilding in our port.” He also stressed its importance in diversifying away from the city’s carbon-intensive steelmaking “monoculture” (as the local steel plant plays an outsized role in the city’s productive tissue).

Some time ago, it was Beijing. China, too, has long had its sights on the seaport – which would make an excellent addition to the Belt and Road Initiative, aka New Silk Road. Back in 2019, Rome signed a Memorandum of Understanding to become part of it.

  • At the time, Taranto-born Senator Mario Turco – now vice president of the Five Star Movement – stressed the importance of having “matured a series of institutional contacts with the Chinese port authorities,” especially “in light of the future inclusion of Taranto’s seaport in the Silk Road.”

But Taranto is a strategic seaport for Italy and beyond. For instance, it hosts the NATO base that oversees a significant chunk of the Mediterranean Sea, which is why the Italian intelligence watchdog, COPASIR, and US diplomacy and intelligence investigated the issue.

  • The Turkish company Yilport controls Taranto’s container terminal. Not too long ago, it had to deny any partnership with COSCO, another Chinese state-owned giant, following revelations in the Italian press of a report by the Italian foreign intelligence service (AISE) according to which Yilport is, in fact, partnering with COSCO.

The Silk Road’s popping up elsewhere, too. Last week Decode39 reported on COSCO’s latest moves in the seaport of Trieste. The Chinese giant inaugurated a rail link between the Upper Adriatic city and Slovenia.

  • Michelangelo Agrusti, president of Confindustria Alto Adriatico (the local industrial federation), said the Silk Road “seems to be re-entering [Italy] through the back door.”

No urgency (for now). The agreement with the Chinese-controlled shipyard has not fuelled national security concerns, most likely because of the nature of its operation. Anyhow, 2019 seems far away – not least because, as US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said in June, Mario Draghi’s government “very much understands how the PRC is operating in the world.” All the more reason to keep our eyes peeled.

(Photo: Port of Taranto, Facebook)

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