U.S. warns Italy against joining China’s ‘One Belt One Road’

Italy’s Trieste port welcomes investments from China (photo from PortSEurope, Source: Autorita’ di Sistema Portuale del Mar Ligure Occidentale)

A spokesman for the White House’s group of national security advisors warned Rome that “Italy is a major global economy and great investment destination.

No need for Italian government to lend legitimacy to China’s infrastructure vanity project…” Euronews reported on March 9.

Reuters further reported on March 15 that Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte “… plans to sign a preliminary accord when Xi visits Rome (on March 22-24), hooking Italy up to the Belt and Road Initiative … has angered Washington and alarmed Brussels, raising fears of a sellout of sensitive technologies and the handover of critical infrastructure …

With ports that offer easy gateways into Europe’s richest markets, Italy is a promising and prestigious prize for China. In return for its endorsement, Italy’s government hopes for a boost in exports and investment that will lift its anemic economy out of its third recession in a decade …”

The background to this development is that “ … Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, who leads the populist 5-Star Movement, has spearheaded the pro-Beijing policy, setting up a China Task Force within the industry ministry that has the stated aimed of making Italy a ‘privileged partner’ in BRI. He has visited China twice in eight months and effectively sidelined the foreign ministry on one of the most sensitive diplomatic issues of the day. Di Maio’s task force is led by junior industry minister Michele Geraci, who lived in China for 10 years before entering government in 2018 …”

According to Bloomberg on March 19, “… Trieste, an increasingly busy port city on the northeastern edge of Italy … is eagerly preparing to open its port to China as a European point of entry for the ‘Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) …”

If the accord can be realized, “Italy will become the 124th nation to sign on, but it will be the first in the Group of Seven, in defiance of loud warnings from the U.S. — and more quietly voiced concerns from some quarters of Europe …”

At least three points to note. Firstly, a question, will Italian PM really seal such a deal with China during Xi’s visit this Friday despite the White House’s objection alongside their global anti-Huawei campaign? By then we can know Washington’s present-day capability of maintaining the G7 discipline behind the scene.

Secondly, Europe is so diverse (in IR term, multi-polar) that it is increasingly difficult for Washington to co-ordinate, let alone command. As a result, the better way to contain China’s expansion is on the east front — East Asia. Tension will further heighten in Taiwan, Hong Kong and South China Sea.

Thirdly, even though a US-China trade deal (which probably favors a lot toward President Trump’s electorate base) could be inked this year, this peace may not last long. The next administration, including Trump himself, could easily use any excuse to abolish the deal for new political or strategic consideration. The US-China contest will be more tense and their national interests will become, sadly, more incompatible.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

Categories: Politics & Law

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