Italy became the first G7 nation to endorse China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) otherwise known as the Silk Road Project, which aims to launch a network of infrastructure projects connecting Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and China’s President, Xi Jinping, have signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MoU) boosting the ties between two nations. Xi was able to ensure Italy’s contribution to his $1 Trillion (£760 Billion) BRI enterprise.
“It’s now time for a more effective relationship between Italy and China,” Conte said.
The endorsement angered Washington and alarmed EU allies who see the Silk Road project as China’s strategic move to embolden its political and strategic clout.
The United States fears that it is designed to strengthen China’s military influence and could be utilized to spread technologies capable of spying on Western interests.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned Italy against being too naïve when dealing with China:
“You have to take into account the possibility that China, through the policies, is also pursuing some of its national interests.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday that relations with Beijing must not be based primarily on trade and other EU leaders also cautioned Italy this week against rushing into the arms of China.
Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio played down such concerns, telling reporters that Rome remains fully committed to its Western partners. However, di Maio stressed that Italy needs to be prioritized first when it comes to commercial ties:
“This is a very important day for us, a day when Made-in-Italy has won, Italy has won and Italian companies have won.”
During Xi’s visit, Italian companies successfully inked deals with Chinese counterparts worth an initial 2.5 billion euros ($2.8 billion). Di Maio said these contracts had a potential, future value of 20 billion euros.
Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, also expressed support to the deal, saying that China and Italy were “ideal travel companions” as he raised a toast with Xi during a gala dinner at the presidential palace on Friday night.