Italy signed on to more than two dozen deals affiliated with China’s Belt and Road Initiative Project (BRI), or the New Silk Road, on Saturday during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s political visit to Rome. The BRI is currently identified as numerous major infrastructure projects set to be placed around the world and meant to facilitate faster international transportation of Chinese goods to overseas markets, according to the BBC. Italy is the first nation of its Global North allies to sign on to involvement in the program, which has therefore incited some concern among nations in the European Union as well as the United States. The total of twenty-nine deals signed during the visit total 2.8 billion dollars and are proposed to continue funding the development of trains, roads, and ports, specifically those of Trieste and Genoa, through China’s Communications and Construction Company, according to Northeast Now.
Despite visible and audible concerns among Italy’s allies with regard to their decision, Deputy Prime Minster of Italy, Di Maio has expressed sentiments seemingly meant to quell any radical concerns. The BBC reports that Di Maio has stated during a news conference on the subject that “…other European countries … have taken a critical view and they have the right to this opinion.” He further added, “We do not want to override our European partners. We firmly remain in the Euro-Atlantic alliance and we remain allies of the United States in NATO.” Italy’s other Deputy Prime Minister, Salvini has expressed dissent in the decision in addition to the nation’s allies, expressing apprehension to have “foreign business ‘colonize’ Italy,” according to the BBC. In this sense, one day following the signings, Italy is faced with both domestic and international dissensus regarding the nature of its impending political impact.
Despite the fact that this signing of a shared program between Italy and China, or Italy’s cooperation with the Chinese BRI plan does not in itself constitute a conflict, the international responses to this agreement may in themselves be controversial or provide fodder for eventual conflict. In considering the nature of this agreement to directly connect China to Italy through improvement of trade infrastructure, it is important to consider the inherent ideological biases that often dictate the terms of dissatisfaction with such a deal among the Italian allies of the Global North. Because the BRI threatens to rhetorically, as well as economically place China as the absolute global superpower instead of the United States (and its ally relationships) it would of course instinctually be regarded with suspicion in a diplomatic relationship defined by economic competition for material and ideological dominance. The nature of such competition over economic superiority often does breed violence rather than peace, and in this sense the BRI therefore may not in practice be a direct source of physical violence, however it may incite European/American insecurity regarding their economic positionality as inherently globally superior, which is quite often taken for granted.
In attempting to critically asses the values and risks for China, Italy, and other nations and communities around the world, it is invaluable to additionally understand the motivation behind the completion of such an agreement. After the collapse of an Italian bridge in Genoa last August resulted in several deaths, according to the BBC, and began to place an overdue spotlight on Italy’s despairing and nearly failing infrastructure, Italy’s economy also entered a recession around the same time. On Italy’s end therefore, the signing of the BRI deals appear not to be a plan to collude in actualizing a Chinese bid for global economic superiority, but rather an attempt to begin infrastructural funding and repair through a controversial alliance. Although, of course the Italian government is not operating under a fog of naïveté, Italian agreement to involvement in the international Chinese infrastructural development plan does validate the very positioning of Chinese markets and the Chinese economy as growing and gaining superiority that Italy’s European and American allies fear directly threatens their own global positions.