Italy’s possible withdrawal from China’s Belt and Road program could pave the way for new defections

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane/file) (GUGLIELMO MANGIAPANE/)

Italy is evaluating the possibility of withdrawing from the large infrastructure project Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of Chinaa movement that could have significant repercussions on global relations and open the way for the departure of other adherents.

It is the only industrialized country in the Group of Seven (G7) signatory of the BRIit’s found in the midst of a review process of its relationship with China. This comes at a time when shifting geopolitical alignments are transforming the global economy and just months before Italy assumes the rotating presidency of the G7 in 2024.

According to experts, Italy’s decision could set a precedent for future departures of the Chinese global trade and infrastructure initiative.

Giulio Puglieseprofessor at the School of Global and Area Studies at the University of Oxford, told the American channel CNBC that “the idea in Washington is that if Italy withdraws and does so with a degree of real collaboration and smiles with BeijingWhat this will imply is that other Western European countries, perhaps even the Eastern European countries that make up the bulk of the participants in the BRI, they might be able to retreat”.

“Let’s not forget that many Baltic states and many other Central and Eastern European countries, apart from Hungary, are quite skeptical about China’s role today,” Pugliese added.

Decision before December

Under the government of Giuseppe Conte, Italy signed with China a five-year memorandum of understanding which is up for renewal in March 2024. Italy has until December to make a formal decision to withdraw, or its membership will be extended for another five years.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and the then Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte during the signing of trade cooperation agreements in Rome in 2019 (REUTERS/Yara Nardi)
Chinese President Xi Jinping and the then Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte during the signing of trade cooperation agreements in Rome in 2019 (REUTERS/Yara Nardi) (YARA NARDI/)

The Prime Minister’s Government Giorgia Meloni seems ready to withdraw from the BRIa reflection of frustration over the initiative’s unfulfilled promises and the country’s strategic reassessment of China.

Italian doubts increased after the Chinese project has been overshadowed by accusations of corruption, stalled projects and concerns about the “debt trap” in recipient countries.

During the last year, the Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloniindicated that joining the BRI was a “big mistake” which he intended to correct by withdrawing from the initiative. Meloni cited the lack of benefits that Italy obtained after joining the BRI, noting that “Italy is the only G7 member that signed the memorandum of accession to the Silk Road, but it is not the European or Western country with the economic relations and the strongest trade flows with China.” More recently, the Italian Minister of Defense, Guido Crosettodescribed as “improvised and atrocious act” Italy’s decision to join the BRI.

Even so, Meloni seeks to withdraw without unleashing Beijing’s wrath, a country with which Italy maintains an important commercial link. During the G20 summit in Delhi, the prime minister met with her Chinese peer, Li Qiang. The meeting highlighted the common intention to deepen the dialogue between Rome and Beijing on bilateral and international issues.

Meloni highlighted that “there are European nations that in recent years have not been part of the Belt and Road, but that have been capable of forging more favorable relationships [con China] of which we have sometimes achieved”, underlining the importance of ensuring a mutually beneficial partnership, regardless of the final decision on the BRI.

According to experts like David Sacksof the Council on Foreign Relations, the Italian withdrawal of the BRI would reflect the growing transatlantic convergence on the challenge posed by China.

European countries see China increasingly like a rival that as a partner or competitor, while the president of the European Comission, Ursula von der Leyen, recently argued that “the clear goal of the Chinese Communist Party is a systemic change of the international order with China at its center,” pointing to the BRI as proof. He Beijing’s support for Russia in its war against Ukraine it has led many European governments, including Italy, to shed their illusions about China. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe, which had traditionally sought to strengthen ties with China through the “17+1” cooperation mechanism, have also taken this turn.