China props up ‘Belt and Road’ as Italy wavers

China’s Belt and Road initiative has come under scrutiny as Italy contemplates its future involvement in the ambitious infrastructure project, with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasising the gains made during a meeting with Italian Deputy Prime Minister Antonio Tajani. As Rome wrestles with the decision to remain in Beijing’s signature initiative, Wang highlighted the deepening cooperation between the two nations, stating that Italian products have found their way into thousands of Chinese households.

Wang, speaking on Monday, underscored the historical ties between China and Italy, invoking the legacy of the ancient Silk Road. “The thousand-year friendship inherited from the ancient Silk Road has endured,” he said, emphasising the enduring connection between the nations.

The Foreign Minister pointed to significant economic progress, noting that bilateral trade between China and Italy has surged from $50 billion to nearly $80 billion in recent years. Italy has also witnessed a remarkable 30 percent increase in its exports to China over the past five years.

“China and Italy should adhere to the right way of getting along with each other,” Wang asserted, advocating for continued cooperation.

Tajani, in response, voiced Italy’s support for “frank, open dialogue on principles and rights,” emphasising the need for such discussions at the European Union level, as reported by the Italian news agency ANSA.

Italy’s participation in the Belt and Road Initiative has been a source of growing unease within the nation. Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto, in July, openly criticised the decision made by then-Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to join the initiative in 2019, characterising it as an “atrocious act” that failed to significantly boost Italian exports while inundating the country with Chinese imports.

The Belt and Road plan, a grand vision proposing massive investments in infrastructure like roads, bridges, and ports to recreate the ancient Silk Road trade routes linking Europe and Asia, has faced its share of critics who view it as a vehicle for Beijing to expand its geopolitical influence and potentially burden poorer nations with unsustainable debt.

Italy’s membership in the initiative is slated to automatically renew in March of the following year, unless Rome formally requests its cancellation by December.

Ahead of his diplomatic mission to China, Tajani expressed reservations about the agreement, stating that it “did not bring the results we expected.” He further noted, “We will have to evaluate; the parliament will have to decide whether or not to renew our participation.”

Tajani’s visit to China follows a series of recent visits by Western leaders, including United States Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and United Kingdom Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, underscoring the global significance and ongoing debate surrounding China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

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