The Belt and Road Initiative Has Been Good for Portugal and Italy
Ironically, as the European Commission was trying to push its “de-risking” strategy paper down the throat of the Foreign ministers meeting near Stockholm, two examples in the real world indicated how such a strategy goes against the interests of all European nations, even the most anti-China among them.
China’s Vice President Han Zheng visited Portugal on May 7-9, as part of a European tour, that took him to the Netherlands as well. Unlike the Commission’s provocative stance on Taiwan, Portugal pursues a “one China” policy, and has officially endorsed the Chinese peace plan for Ukraine. It signed a Global Strategic Partnership with China in 2005 and joined the BRI in 2018. Previously, Portugal had transferred its former colony of Macau back to China under the “One Country, Two Systems” formula in 1999.
Portugal has greatly benefited from cooperation with China in the last decades and one could say that, by doing so, it has “de-risked” its vulnerability to economic and financial shocks. China helped Portugal during the 2011 financial crisis and during the pandemic; in 2022, with Chinese direct investments in Portugal totalling €3.2 billion, a large figure for a country of 10.3 million inhabitants. During Han’s visit, new cooperation agreements were reached, including in the space and maritime technology sectors.
Conversely, the case of Italy shows how negative propaganda and external interference can spoil relations with China and damage national interests. Italy was the first (an only) of the G7 countries to join the BRI in 2019. But since then, a sequence of anti-China governments has come to power and the MoU has been frozen, while a series of Chinese direct investments have been blocked. Exemplary is the case of the port of Trieste, where negotiations on Cosco investments were blocked, so that instead of the investments of the Chinese shipping giant, Trieste chose those of the port of Hamburg. But now, Cosco holds 25% of the shares in one terminal of the Hamburg port.
Currently, the Meloni government is under strong Anglo-American pressure to not renew the MoU and to abandon the BRI. While Rome has not yet said anything on the subject, Atlanticist media such as Bloomberg or the Financial Times insist that Italy will give in. This has prompted the Chinese government, through its unofficial organ Global Times, to warn against any undermining of China-Italy cooperation. “China is Italy’s largest trading partner in Asia, with bilateral trade maintaining strong growth for the past three consecutive years, which reached a record high of $77.88 billion in 2022. For both China and Italy, it is in each other’s interest to continue deepening cooperation.”