All the reasons to stay in the BRI. The Italian government is leaning towards exiting China’s Belt and Road Initiative. And Beijing has embarked on an increasingly vigorous charm offensive to convince Rome to stay. The latest prong of this was a Thursday article on the State-owned tabloid Global Times, which reflects the Chinese Communist Party’s growing anxiety about Italy exiting its infrastructure and influence project.
- The Memorandum of Understanding linking Italy to the BRI is set to auto-renew in March 2024 unless one of the parties takes a step back three months prior, so a decision is expected by year’s end.
- The matter is still being discussed, and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has signalled she might get Parliament involved in the decision. She did note on Wednesday that one could have “excellent relations with China without being part of a strategic plan” such as the BRI.
The good and the bad (according to Beijing). After underscoring the PM’s words, the Global Times article quotes an academic as stating that Rome is “facing a dilemma on preserving friendly and win-win relations with China due to pressure from the US and the impact caused by internal political struggles and populism.”
- Another State-linked pundit remarks that “unlike Conte’s government, which was ruled by a non-mainstream political party that was able to withstand US pressure, the Meloni administration is finding it hard to withstand Washington’s influence.”
- The reference is to Giuseppe Conte (now leader of the somewhat pro-China and anti-Atlanticist Five Star Movement), who signed the Memorandum of Understanding with China in 2019 in his former capacity as Prime Minister.
A reality check. On Friday morning, Italy’s Enterprise Minister Adolfo Urso told Radio24 that the Meloni government “is not being pressured by the US, nor China, on the [BRI] Memorandum.” He then added that since the document was signed, “our trade with China has worsened considerably, in contrast to what has happened with France or Germany, which have instead implemented [new] business with China. This should give us pause for thought.”
Jittery much? The Global Times piece, which ultimately depicts Rome as weak and Washington as dictating the line, actually hints at the CCP’s increasing awareness that Italy will most likely ditch the MoU. It’s a matter of “how” rather than “if” so as to avoid repercussions for both: China would lose the only G-7 country to have joined the BRI, and it’s subtly threatening Italy of the economic backlash that choice would entail.
- High-level Beijing envoys are also liaising with the Italian business community and a series of politicians to get this point across.