Italy has withdrawn from China’s vast Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), more than four years after becoming the only G7 nation to sign up, an Italian government source said on Wednesday.
The long-expected decision was quietly communicated to Beijing three days ago without any official announcement, Corriere della Sera reported.
An Italian government source on Wednesday said that Rome had pulled out, giving no details beyond saying it was done in such a way as to “keep channels of political dialogue open.”
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has long been opposed to Italy’s participation in an initiative viewed by many as an attempt by Beijing to buy political influence — and whose economic benefits to Rome were limited.
The deal was due to automatically renew in March next year, unless Italy opted out by the end of this year.
However, Meloni and her hard-right government were also wary of provoking Beijing and risking retaliation against Italian companies.
Without directly confirming the news, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Antonio Tajani on Wednesday said that Rome was seeking to “relaunch the strategic partnership” with Beijing.
During a trip to China he made in September, he made clear that Rome wanted to “promote better access to our products regardless of our participation” in the BRI, Tajani told the Italian parliament.
News of the decision emerged on the eve of a high-level EU-China summit in Beijing yesterday, the first of its kind since 2019 set to focus on trade.
Beijing said upward of 150 countries stretching from Uruguay to Sri Lanka have signed up to the initiative, a central pillar of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) bid to expand China’s clout overseas.
It has inked more than US$2 trillion in contracts, from high-speed rail tracks crisscrossing Southeast Asia and massive transport, energy and infrastructure works through Central Asia, Beijing said.
Proponents hail it for bringing resources and economic growth to the Global South, but it has also been slammed for saddling poor countries with enormous debt.
It has also given Chinese infrastructure firms a foothold in many emerging economies.
There are concerns, particularly among Western nations, that China is seeking to rebuild the global world order to its advantage, while opposition voices in BRI countries have also decried what they see as increasing Chinese influence in local politics.
Meanwhile, Washington has warned that China could use the initiative as a pretext to build up military bases in different parts of the world in the name of protecting BRI investments.
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