Italy treads lightly on the Silk Road. On Monday, speaking to Il Messaggero, Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida (a loyalist and close ally of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni) said that Rome “will move in concert with the European States and also with the United States [and] NATO countries” regarding the possible renewal of the Belt and Road initiative memorandum of Understanding between Rome and Beijing.
- The government will act “with a great deal of caution, [that which] that was not there in the past,” said the minister, referring to the previous government (led by then-Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte) that signed the MoU in 2019.
- That MoU turned Italy into the only G7 country to enter the BRI. As it stands, it is set to auto-renew in 2024 – unless either China or Italy takes a step back.
Weighing benefits. “China has pros, being a very important trading partner. But also cons: a development model that is far from ours, different rules on respect for workers’ rights, a different approach to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the climate, and Africa,” said Mr Lollobrigida. Then again, he noted that the Atlantic Alliance is more than an alliance: “it defends international law and freedom. For us, [NATO] is a dogma safeguarding democratic nations.”
Beijing’s pressure… In early February, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi travelled to Italy and voiced his hope the government would let the MoU auto-renew. And the recently appointed Chinese Ambassador to Rome, Jia Guide, has also pushed for that outcome.
- PM Giorgia Meloni called the MoU “a big mistake on the campaign trail.” And in November, Defence Minister Guido Crosetto noted it’s “unlikely” she will renew it.
- Nevertheless, as Enrico Fardella (associate professor at the University of Naples L’Orientale and director of ChinaMed) told our sister website, Rome’s quiet consent could turn out to be the most practical solution. “Perhaps it could allow [Italy] to maximise the benefits by keeping the MoU as a dead letter if necessary or exhuming it according to convenience.”
… and the alternative routes. Meanwhile, Rome is looking to strengthen its international cooperation in the Asian continent – including its relationship with New Delhi. PM Meloni is slated to land in India on Thursday, where she’ll likely strike a new defence cooperation agreement. Then she’ll travel to the United Arab Emirates.
- In the Messaggero interview, Minister Lollobrigida answered a question on PM Meloni’s upcoming trips by recounting an anecdote. “Do you know what a US diplomat told me? That before they only talked to France and Germany, and now we are there [too] on the big issues.”
- This disproves “all the prejudices that had been advanced about our government,” he continued, noting that it also applies to the Mediterranean area. “We want to regain our role in the Mediterranean, [which] had been somewhat lost” in the past 15 years.