Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio affirmed on Monday that Italy’s transatlantic relationship with the United States is far more important than their relationship with China. Partnerships like NATO and the EU are equally as important to Di Maio, as he described them as “absolutely incomparable” while standing beside U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
In 2019, while Di Maio was serving as Italy’s Economic Development Minister, he signed Italy up to participate in Beijing’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. According to CNBC, this initiative came under Chinese President Xi Jingping with the goal to connect hundreds of countries both physically and digitally. Initially, the previous Italian government had endorsed the initiative in hopes that China would offer them an opportunity for new investments. Despite this endorsement, Italy’s domestic economy has been plateaued for over a decade.
Many skeptics of this program view it as a way for President Jingping to expand his global Chinese influence. Another point of concern surrounding Italy entering the influential Chinese arena was that the decision followed closely after the European Commission labeled Beijing a “systemic rival”.
Di Maio has also since released a statement to Italy’s allies, specifically the U.S., EU, and NATO, assuring them they “are not just strategic alliances, but alliances of values”. Di Maio continued to affirm that China is simply a “commercial partner” and that their relations “absolutely do not compare with…our alliances of values”.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has been working hard to offer low and middle-income countries an alternative to investing with China. The U.S. initiative called Build Back Better World is described as “a constructive initiative to meet enormous infrastructure needs” of these countries, per The White House and CBS News. This initiative, which is supported by France, Germany, and others, has not yet been openly supported by Italy.
While Italy aims to credit its recent involvement with China to a weak economy, Italy was awarded the highest share of the EU’s post-pandemic relief and recovery funds at 209 billion pounds. To proceed with caution by some of Italy’s allies is not unwarranted, and as the fear of Jingping’s influence rises, the international community, which stands against the expansion, must find common ground between each other.
After the EU hardened its stance on China in March, calling them “an economic competitor in pursuit of technological leadership…promoting alternative models of governance”. The EU went on to criticize those countries which were closely aligned with China. Germany has also played a role in the EU, being more stark about its position against China. Germany’s main business lobby, the BDI, also recently began calling China a “systemic competitor” as well. China has begun to take over many key European technology producers, which is part of their Made in China 2025 program.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the program seeks to make China the dominant global high-tech manufacturer by using “government subsidies, state-owned enterprises, and intellectual property acquisition” to surpass Western technological industries. This poses quite the security dilemma for countries like the U.S. and those within the EU because, while many countries have tightened their foreign investment to China, others like Italy, are increasing their investment.
The largest deterrent for cooperating and working with China for countries such as Italy, would be pushback from ally countries. This pushback could come in the form of sanctions, international organizations stepping in, and others. The U.S. discouraging foreign investment in China by starting with the Build Back Better World program is a positive start in containing global Chinese influence.
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