July 30, 2023 –Italy made an “improvised and atrocious” decision in joining China’s Belt and Road (BRI) initiative, defence minister Guido Crosetto has said.
Mr. Crosetto claimed the initiative had done little to boost Italy’s exports, making China the only winner.
China has previously said both nations have seen “fruitful results” as a result of the BRI.
Italy became the first developed economy to join the BRI in 2019 – a move criticised by its Western allies.
The global investment programme envisions connecting China with Europe and beyond through rebuilding the old Silk Road trade route.
Under it, China provides funding for major infrastructure projects around the world, in a bid to speed Chinese goods to markets further afield.
Critics see it as a tool for China to spread influence. Both the EU and the US expressed concern when Italy decided to join the scheme four years ago.
“The decision to join the (new) Silk Road was an improvised and atrocious act” that increased Chinese exports to Italy without having the same effect on Italian exports to China, Mr Crosetto told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
He said Italy now needs to work out how to get out of the deal without damaging relations with Beijing.
“The issue today is: how to walk back (from the BRI) without damaging relations (with Beijing). Because it is true that China is a competitor, but it is also a partner,” Mr Crosetto said.
As Beijing had become increasingly assertive on the world stage, Italy would have to think about how to withdraw “without producing disasters”, he said.
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There has been intense discussion about whether Italy should remain in the BRI since May, when Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said she wanted talks with China about possibly withdrawing.
It is set to be automatically renewed in March 2024 unless Italy makes a formal request to withdraw from it by December this year.
China’s foreign ministry previously said it believed “China and Italy should further explore their cooperation potential” under the BRI and “strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation to seek more fruitful cooperation results.”
In comments quoted in the English language edition of the state-affiliated Global Times newspaper in May, foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin added that the two nations have seen “fruitful results” in many fields as a result of the BRI.
Beijing has since launched a diplomatic campaign to try to persuade Italy to renew the deal by sending senior officials to the country to lobby its case.