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Italy’s Discontent with Belt and Road Initiative Signals Shifting Alliances

by Rahil M
0 comment

As part of the initial agreement, if Italy fails to decide its stance by December 2023, the Belt and Road Initiative deal will automatically renew in March 2024.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani has expressed disappointment in Italy’s trade outcomes since joining China’s Belt and Road Initiative four years ago, signaling potential strain in the Sino-Italian partnership.

Speaking at the European House Ambrosetti economic forum just before his visit to China, Tajani remarked, “The Silk Road did not bring the results we expected.” Italy was the first major Western European country and the sole G7 member to join China’s ambitious BRI project.

Tajani’s comments have ignited speculations about Italy’s wavering commitment to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a massive infrastructure development effort spanning several continents. The Foreign Minister hinted at the possibility of Italy not renewing its participation when he stated, “We will have to evaluate, and the parliament will have to decide whether or not to renew our participation.” Observers believe the likelihood of Italy extending its Belt and Road Initiative deal with China is slim.

As part of the initial agreement, if Italy fails to decide its stance by December 2023, the Belt and Road Initiative deal will automatically renew in March 2024. However, Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni is expected to make an official announcement during her visit to China in mid-October, which is seen as a sign of respect for China’s leadership. This move implies that Italy has likely reached a preliminary agreement with Chinese authorities to exit the Belt and Road Initiative, a decision that could have significant implications.

Italy’s participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative was a pivotal moment in the project’s expansion into Western Europe. As the first G7 country to join, Italy’s decision was met with both interest and concern from the international community. Italy’s move to align with China was partly driven by economic considerations. The nation had experienced three recessions within a decade, and it sought to attract investments and expand its access to China’s vast market.

At that time, Italy believed that joining the Belt and Road Initiative would provide opportunities to leverage its political significance and attract Chinese investments. The agreements signed under the BRI ranged from double taxation to sanitary requirements for pork exports, cultural heritage protection, and commercial arrangements.

However, four years later, Tajani pointed out that Italian exports to China in 2022 were worth 16.5 billion euros ($17.8 billion), significantly lower than France and Germany, which reported figures of 23 billion and 107 billion euros, respectively. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has described the arrangement as a “big mistake” and has expressed her intention to rectify it.

Interestingly, Italy’s decision to join the Belt and Road Initiative did lead to an increase in its exports to China, rising from 14.5 billion euros to 18.5 billion euros. In contrast, Chinese exports to Italy witnessed a more substantial surge, climbing from 33.5 billion euros to 50.9 billion euros.

Beyond economic considerations, Italy’s potential withdrawal from the Belt and Road Initiative underscores a broader shift in Europe’s approach to China. As governments across the continent become increasingly concerned about their reliance on Beijing for economic growth, they are reevaluating their relationships with China.

While Italy’s move away from the Belt and Road Initiative could be seen as a setback for China’s ambitious infrastructure expansion into Western Europe, it also highlights the evolving dynamics in global partnerships and raises questions about the future direction of Italy’s engagement with China. Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani’s remarks expressing dissatisfaction with the results of Italy’s participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative suggest a potential shift in the country’s commitment to the project. Italy’s reconsideration of its role in the Belt and Road Initiative reflects broader concerns within Europe about economic dependency on China, raising significant questions about the future of Sino-Italian relations.

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