Time to get out of the BRI. On Sunday, through an interview given to Il Corriere della Sera, Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto gave the strongest indication yet on the executive’s intention to leave China’s Belt and Road Initiative before the deal auto-renews in 2024. And it began with a scorching retrospective on the 2019 decision to enter it, which he called an “improvised and heinous act” on the part of the government of the time, led by Giuseppe Conte.
Several reasons why. Joining the BRI actually “led to a double negative result. We exported a load of oranges to China, [whereas] they tripled their exports to Italy in three years,” said Minister Crosetto. He was referring to the Conte executive’s spin on the BRI’s benefits, namely a boost to the export of Italian products to China – exemplified by new shipments of Sicilian oranges.
- Four years later, economic data shows that Italian exports have lagged those of other countries that had not signed up for the BRI. “The most ridiculous thing at the time was that Paris sold planes to Beijing for tens of billions without signing any treaty,” highlighted the official.
- That’s one of the reasons that brought Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to note that “one can have good relations […] with Beijing without these necessarily being part of an overall strategic plan.”
Now, to damage control. Speaking to Fox News in an interview aired on Sunday, the PM promised the Italian executive would “decide before December” as the issue requires discussions with the Chinese government and within the Italian Parliament. The current matter, explained Minister Crosetto, is “retracing our steps without damaging relations,” as China is both “a competitor” and “a partner.”
- It is no coincidence that PM Meloni announced that she would be travelling to Beijing during her State visit to Washington, he added. Chinese propaganda has been attempting to cast rumours of the BRI exit as a sign of United States pressure – a theory that former PM Conte also pushed, and that PM Meloni rejected firmly.
- As the Defence Minister explained, it’s more about properly anchoring Italy in the current geopolitical scenario. “Beijing has increasingly assertive attitudes. It once set out to become the world’s biggest commercial player. Today it announces that it will be the world’s biggest military player. And they are expanding.”
It’s bigger than China: take Africa, where China’s expansion is also cultural, continued Minister Crosetto: “Comics depict the Chinese as liberators and Westerners as exploiters to be driven out. They do not hide their goals; they make them explicit.” Rome is positioning itself accordingly to respond to these challenges – and the White House, along with the other Western allies, has taken notice.
- The official said that Italy is the EU ally the US trusts the most (along with Poland) because of its reliable stance on Ukraine and other issues and because it has “shown itself to be a visionary partner, demanding that the West take charge of Africa’s destiny.”
- “What happened in Niger, with the coup d’état, is a sign of the hybrid war being fought on the international chessboard.”
- Africa, he continued, “is crucial for future scenarios” as it possesses roughly half of the world’s mineral, water and agricultural land resources and is forecasted to reach 2.5 billion inhabitants in the next twenty years. “Potentially, it could have the largest army in the world. And if it does not change its historical course, with starving populations and no future, anything could happen.”