Rumor: Giorgia Meloni plans to break Italy’s BRI cooperation with China

Published 28 July 2023
- By Editorial Staff
Prime Minister of Italy since October 2022 - Giorgia Meloni.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is reportedly planning to build a better relationship with the US and its President Joe Biden. One step in this direction, according to the same sources, is that Italy may cancel its economic and infrastructure cooperation agreement with China, known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The agreement was signed in 2019 during the government of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, which led to harsh criticism from Washington and the EU. Now, there are signals that Italy does not intend to renew the agreement.

Anonymous officials in the Rome government are said to have had private conversations with senior U.S. officials in which they assured them that Italy would withdraw from the Belt and Road Initiative, the Chinese investment pact that has irritated the West (see info box).

Meloni denies rumor

But Prime Minister Meloni is reportedly not planning to announce his decision to withdraw from the pact during his brief visit to Washington this week. Rome is concerned that if Meloni were to announce such a sensitive decision on US soil, it would make her – and by extension Italy – look weak.

She said earlier this year that Italy’s trade deal with China had not been discussed with Washington.

– The president of the United States has never directly raised the question with me, Meloni said at a recent press conference in Rome, a statement that some observers doubt is true.

John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, would not discuss the Italian plans in too much detail at this stage, but said he saw the U.S. infrastructure investment framework as a “good option” for its partner countries.

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that more and more countries are seeing the risks — and quite frankly, the lack of reward — for economic partnerships with China, Kirby said.

China’s Communist Party-owned Global Times newspaper has already speculated that Italy’s withdrawal from the Belt and Road Initiative was due to pressure from Washington.

Italy’s balancing act

Italy, like much of Europe, has been caught in the crossfire of escalating tensions between Washington and Beijing. These have been exacerbated by Beijing’s support for Russia following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The delicate balancing act of staying close to the U.S. while not clashing with China has become increasingly difficult, both economically and geopolitically. This is especially true for Italy and its new supposedly right-wing government, a government that has already begun to waver on its promises of sharply reducing immigration and distancing itself from the EU – the election promises on which Giorgia Meloni ran and which her voters and many analysts see as the main reasons for her electoral success last year.

 

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