Please stay. China hopes Italy will renew the Belt and Road Initiative Memorandum of Understanding. This framework agreement will automatically extend for five more years in March 2024 if the Italian government does not decide to revoke it in the meantime.
- This was stressed in the first two interviews given to Italian media by the new Chinese Ambassador, Jia Guide (here’s his profile), who took office in Rome a few weeks ago describing the two countries as “natural partners.”
- When then-Italian PM Giuseppe Conte signed the MoU in 2019, he made Italy the only G7 country to enter the BRI – which elicited concern from the rest of the West. Later, during his own tenure as PM, Mario Draghi de facto froze the MoU-inspired rapprochement.
In Italy and abroad, despite a series of setbacks, Beijing has not given up on the BRI. On Monday, the Chinese Communist Party’s top diplomat Wang Yi notified he would travel to Italy (as well as France, Hungary and Russia) and attend the Munich Security Conference on February 17-19, where several global leaders, including United States Vice President Kamala Harris, will be in attendance.
- While in Italy, Mr Wang intends to discuss the reinforcement of bilateral ties – especially in light of the BRI MoU – and follow up on the meeting between PM Meloni and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the sidelines of the November G20 Summit in Bali.
In Jia’s own words. The BRI renewal is one of the new Chinese Ambassador to Rome’s priorities. When it was pointed out to him that Washington and Brussels (as well as some Italian parties) never hid their opposition to the BRI, he pointed to the growing economic interchange and stated that “facts win out over rhetoric.”
- “I believe that two great nations such as ours have the ability and wisdom to make the right choices by going with the flow of history, so that this path of cooperation and friendship can become ever wider,” he told Ansa.
- Speaking to Rainews, he hoped that “this path of cooperation and friendship can become wider and wider, instead of the other way around.”
But but but: Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her allies do not look keenly on the BRI MoU, and have signalled their distaste with the deal over the past months – harshly during the election campaign and somewhat more softly ever since they began governing.
- In late September, PM Meloni called the MoU “a big mistake” and stated that she wouldn’t renew it.
- Senator Giulio Terzi, who oversees her party’s diplomatic relations and is a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, told us that Rome was overdue for a “thorough review” of the BRI in coordination with European and Atlantic partners.
- The government’s minority partners, Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi, along with their own parties (the League and Forza Italia), have also expressed scepticism over Beijing.