Tue, Mar 19, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Italy’s drive to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative hits potholes

Xi Jinping is due to sign a preliminary accord during his visit to Rome this week, but analysts and critics say the Italian government has not weighed the geopolitical risks of such a move, as cracks begin to appear within the ruling coaltion over the proposed links

By Crispian Balmer  /  Reuters, ROME

The EU has grown increasingly frustrated by what it sees as the slowness of China to open its economy and by a surge of Chinese takeovers in critical EU sectors, accusing it of distorting local markets.

Rome says such concerns should not stop it forging closer ties and points to the fact that 13 EU countries have already signed memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with China, including Hungary, Poland, Greece and Portugal.

However, the biggest EU exporters to China have not signed MOUs and those that have do not have much to show for it, said Lucrezia Poggetti, a research associate with the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin.

“They have been frustrated that vaguely phrased Chinese promises for economic opportunities have largely failed to materialize,” Poggetti told reporters.

“Signing up to the BRI without taking into account geopolitical considerations and without making concrete demands, hoping that one day you will get something in return economically, is very naive,” she said.

The Belt and Road project lies at the heart of China’s foreign policy strategy and was incorporated into the Chinese Communist Party constitution in 2017, reflecting Xi’s desire for his country to take a global leadership role.

The US, locked in a trade war with Beijing, worries that Xi’s initiative is designed to bolster China’s political and military influence, and could be used to spread technologies capable of spying on Western interests.

“No need for Italian government to lend legitimacy to China’s infrastructure vanity project,” a spokesman for the White House’s national security advisers said on March 9 in a rare public rebuke for one of Washington’s staunchest allies.

Refusing to back down, Italy has nonetheless tried to reassure the US, releasing a draft of the MOU to show it offers up no firm commitments and makes no reference to the sort of technology transfers feared by Washington.

Likewise eager to show that its pro-China policy is bearing fruit, the government has leaked reports that 50 agreements might be signed during Xi’s visit from tomorrow to Saturday, including deals with oil company Eni, gas infrastructure firm Snam and shipbuilder Fincantieri.

Italy also hopes to unveil projects to develop trade through its ports of Genoa, Trieste and Palermo.

Although China’s COSCO Shipping has bought control of the largest port in Greece, Italy says it offers better entry points into Europe.

“There is still much work to be done on the China deals, including what money is involved,” said a business source involved in the negotiations, who declined to be named.

A welter of lucrative contracts would represent a badly needed victory for Di Maio, who is not only battling to soothe US tempers, but is also struggling to sell the deal to his coalition partner, the far-right League.

Even though Geraci is a member of the League, the group appeared blindsided when news of an imminent deal emerged two weeks ago, with party boss, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, warning against the “colonialization” of Italy by China.

“We are reviewing it,” Salvini, who serves as joint deputy prime minister with Di Maio, said on Thursday. “Before allowing someone to invest in the ports of Trieste or Genoa, I would think about it not once but a hundred times.”

This story has been viewed 2406 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top