Italy Exits the Belt and Road Initiative, Secretly

On Dec. 6, the Italian daily Corriere della Sera revealed that Italy is withdrawing as a member of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as undersigned in the 2019 Memorandum. The decision was taken without consulting Parliament, almost secretely, and communicated in a letter sent by Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani to the Chinese embassy in Rome. After the Corriere leak, both Tajani and Prime Minister Meloni confirmed the news to journalists, but no official communique was issued by the Italian government. They both insisted that the MoU “brought no advantage” to Italy.

That is a lie. As the author of the 2019 Memorandum author, former undersecretary of State Michele Geraci, has demonstrated, Italian exports to China increased more than those of its direct competitors France and Germany after the signing. China’s direct investments (FDI) in Italy stagnated, but that is because the Draghi and Meloni governments blocked them, as in the case of the Trieste port. Covid was also a decisive factor in reducing tourist and business travel.

With the decision to exit the BRI, Italy capitulated to pressure from Washington and Brussels. David Sacks, the Council of Foreign Relations’ “hitman” assigned to Italy and the BRI, candidly acknowledged that pressure, in an article in August entitled “Why Is Italy Withdrawing from China’s Belt and Road Initiative?”.

“More fundamentally, Italian withdrawal from the BRI would reflect the growing transatlantic convergence on the challenge China poses. European countries increasingly view China as a rival rather than as a partner or competitor, while President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen recently argued that ‘the Chinese Communist Party’s clear goal is a systemic change of the international order with China at its center,’ pointing to the BRI as evidence.”

However, not all “European countries” view China as a rival, as 14 members of the EU have joined the BRI, and 17 NATO member countries (excluding Italy in both cases) have signed a BRI Memorandum with China.

True, Italy was the first G7 member to do so, but that should have been a source of pride. As we have documented, the most important aspect of the relevant Memorandum was Italy’s and China’s commitment to cooperate in developing Africa. That objective was a priority for Italy (and for the EU as well) because of the growing number of illegal immigrants fleeing war and famine.

But now, Italy is the first — and only — country in the world to exit the BRI. Such a capitulation will have consequences, more in deeds than in words.

While Western mainstream media are gloating about Italy’s withdrawal, Chinese media reflect justified disappointment. “What Italy doesn’t want, China is ready to give to someone else”, wrote the online news channel Overseas Talk. “Who is hiding behind this move? Washington, of course”, commented Knews. The director of Zhejiang University’s Mediterranean Research Institute, Ma Xiaolin, told the Zhejiang Daily that the statements about the BRI’s ineffectiveness were “flimsy”, and Rome’s attitude was “contradictory.” Italy demonstrated, according to Ma, that it was simply “a succubus of Washington.”

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