Italy joins China’s Belt and Road Initiative – here’s how it exposes cracks in Europe and the G7

Winnie King, Teaching Fellow at University of Bristol explains:

While the current Italian government has not been fully unified toward China, a severe economic downturn has made the world’s second largest economy look more appealing to it. Alberto Bradanini, Italy’s former ambassador to China, has stressed that Europe’s own indecision and inability to tackle trade deficits with China (of which Italy contributed approximately €176m, or an eighth of the EU’s total trade deficit) is a key motivator behind this decision.

Italy wants to enhance its “Made in Italy” brand through increasing trade – especially in the form of exports – to China. The BRI is seen as a vehicle to achieve this. Italy offers goods (in particular luxury goods and foodstuffs) that are attractive to China’s growing middle class and increasingly affluent population.

China is also interested in investing in Italian firms. More significant, however, are Italy’s key infrastructure assets. This would enhance the transport and trading network of the BRI, giving it strategic access to Europe. Less than 2% of Italy’s sea imports come from China so there are substantial prospects for growth in that area.

A deal between Genoa’s port authority and shipping firm China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) has already been approved by the Italian government. And the port city of Trieste hopes for something similar. This would offer China and the BRI a more direct route to move goods onto the European continent and an ideal hub for accessing new rail lines and transport networks to Germany, Austria, Slovenia and other regional economies. By giving China access to its ports, Italy is hoping for infrastructure investment from China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) – something the Italian government is trying to link to its role in the BRI.

Interesting! The game of power ensures there are no permanent allies and enemies.

Italy’s status as a G7 country is a coup for the Chinese leadership and the legitimacy of the BRI. While the prospect of Italy’s participation underscores growing fault lines in the EU’s joint approach to China, China has also been effective at dividing and conquering EU member states by targeting them individually.

So Italy’s decision to join the BRI is significant. But four years ago we saw Italy, France and Germany join China’s AIIB, contrary to US wishes. Therefore, Italy is neither the first, nor will it be the last European economy that will “go rogue” and follow its own national interest with regard to China.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: