Italy recently joined President Xi Jinping’s strategy to revive the old silk road through China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This raised international concerns from the U.S. and EU because Italy is the first G7 nation and the biggest EU member to join. Although the BRI allows Rome to improve their current economy through trade, the Chinese benefits are far greater. The 29 deals signed for Italy allows Chinese investments into major European ports, such as Trieste. This lets China strategically access the rest of Europe via rail. In times of conflict, China would have strategic port access, which provides another example of China’s realist nature.
For Italy, the BRI provides a vehicle to improve its slow-progressing economy. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has also stated that the new investments are a geopolitical strategy that will also boost bilateral ties. Italy is looking to improve its “Made in Italy” brand by raising its trade through exports, and the BRI will help. China’s growing middle class also consider Italy’s luxury products attractive.
According to the Council of Foreign Relations’ analysts, the BRI tries to divide the EU, and there have been fears around Chinese control over telecommunications. European countries have shared national security concerns surrounding Chinese investment. This is also due to bids for investments in ports, energy, technology and agriculture. If Chinese companies were to create telecommunication networks, this could allow Beijing to spy on or disrupt European communications. Although Italy remains alone in China’s strategy, it is still uncertain if other European countries will join or if the EU will implement stronger rules regarding the BRI. The Trump government branded the BRI as a platform for debt trap diplomacy and regards it as nothing but a vanity project for China’s schemes.
China’s BRI was announced in 2013 by President Xi Jinping to strengthen its foreign policy through global interconnectivity, trade and cultural partnerships in Eurasia. Although China’s grandiose initiative presents itself as liberal and beneficial for all, it primarily serves China. China’s 29 deals make a total of $2.8 billion. Even with the large price associated, these deals offer China strategic access to Europe, and therefore China is willing to pay. The investments take place in ports in Trieste, Genoa and Palermo. President Xi also visited France, where he confirmed a deal to buy Airbus planes, and Monaco, which has approved for the Chinese telecom giant Huawei to grow its 5G network.
Although the BRI provides Italy with a new economic solution and lots of money, it also strategically serves China. Not only does it allow Chinese entry into Italy but also to the rest of Europe. If conflict were to occur, this would give China a strategic position over the U.S., potentially allowing it to become the regional hegemon.
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