The cartoon on the G7 published by the Chinese media. Italy is portrayed as a reluctant wolf to follow the US against China
A gray wolf, sitting next to the American eagle, which stretches out its hands with a sense halfway between fear and denial. This is how Italy is represented in the G7 cartoon that has gone viral in the Chinese media. Italy is therefore perceived as reluctant to follow Joe Biden's anti-Chinese crusade launched by the United States. However, recalls the state tabloid Global Times, Italy is the only G7 country to have joined the Belt and Road Initiative (or Via della Seta, in its most romantic and reassuring version).
Between the G7 and NATO, Draghi relaunches Italy's Atlanticism
Yet, between the G7 in Cornwall and the NATO summit in Brussels, Prime Minister Mario Draghi strongly reaffirmed the Atlanticist soul of Italian foreign policy, using words of vehemence unknown at these latitudes (at least among those in Palazzo Chigi) towards Beijing. "The dominant political theme was what attitude the G7 should have towards China and all autocracies in general, which use disinformation, social media, stop planes in flight, kidnap, kill, do not respect human rights, they use forced labor, "said Draghi on the sidelines of the G7. "All these issues of resentment towards autocracies have been touched upon and shared. In this sense it was a realistic summit: there was happiness for the economy but the problems were not lost sight of". Also praising the reconstruction of the alliances carried out by Joe Biden, even at the NATO summit.
Draghi: "We will review the agreement on the Silk Road"
Not only. Draghi also opened the possibility of "examining" the memorandum of understanding signed on March 23, 2019 by the then Minister of Economic Development Luigi Di Maio with which Italy became part of the Chinese-led project. "We will examine it carefully", said Draghi, who however stressed that the topic had never been touched in recent days in discussions with Biden.
The change of the Draghi government on China
But there is no doubt that the Draghi government has given a change to Italian foreign policy, in particular by cooling ties with China by continuing the reverse already begun during the Conte bis. It did so by extending the use of the golden power from 5G (holding back the Beijing giants in the construction of network infrastructures) ai semiconductors, with the case of the company in Baranzate (province of Milan) which was prevented from selling a part of it to a Chinese entity. Up to the Iveco vans, who turned elsewhere when she understood the political air.
But beware: Draghi is not anti-Chinese
Yet Draghi's line on China is much more nuanced than is officially told. The prime minister is not anti-Chinese, as some would like to label him. He is above all pragmatic, like his colleague Angela Merkel. Draghi knows very well that Italy and Europe cannot do without China economically. Too vast, too heavy an internal market that in a few years will make the historic overtaking on the United States. Beijing's investments abroad are also too important, even if they have been held back after the launch of the "double circulation" by Xi Jinping before the V Plenum of the Chinese Communist Party last October. This is why Draghi's goal, as well as that of Merkel and Macron, is to maintain a double track in relations with China: on the one hand the commercial partnership, on the other hand, diplomatic rigor and on the subject of rights. A bit like Asian countries like Japan and South Korea have been doing for years.
Economic relations between Italy and China
Let's take some data. In the first five months of 2021, trade between Italy and China increased by 50%, with Italian exports to China increasing by almost 75%. Exports which mainly concerned machinery and equipment (€ 3.8 billion, 29% of the total), chemicals (€ 1.1 billion, 9% of the total) and pharmaceutical products (€ 1 billion, 8% of the total). The greatest increase concerned metallurgical products (+253 million euros, + 106%), chemical products (+207 million euros, + 22%) and food products (+117 million, + 46%). Not to mention the Chinese presence in Italy, long rooted in economic and financial interests. As regards capital flows between Italy and China, based on the most recent data from the Bank of Italy, updated to 2019, total Chinese investments in Italy have almost increased tenfold in 5 years, from 573 million euros in 2015 to 4.7 billion euros in 2019.
Chinese investments in Italy
"Analyzing the range of acquisitions to Italy, we understand that Chinese investors, often controlled by the state," he explains Lorenzo Riccardi, economist of Shanghai University, "have a focus on technology, brands with a global presence, energy and other strategic sectors, with controlling interests or significant influence (Pirelli, CDP Reti, Ansaldo). In recent years, Chinese investments in the world of football are also known (Inter), fashion and luxury (Krizia, Ferretti, Moncler, Ferragamo), in manufacturing (Candy). Minority interests in the main listed Italian groups, such as the investments of the People's Bank of China in ENI, TIM, Intesa San Paolo, Saipem and Prysmian, and the Silk Road Fund in Highways), along with the latest news of the one billion euro investment planned by Faw in Emilia Romagna for the construction of a state-of-the-art center for the production of supercars ", concludes Riccardi.
Leaving the Silk Road? It's not convenient
As for the Silk Road, it cannot be hastily concluded that Draghi's words mean that Italy will exit the project. For a number of reasons: first of all because it is not a binding treaty and secondly because of getting out of it it could lead to economic reprisals by the People's Republic, as is already happening with Australia. Easier, if anything, to stay inside and not follow up on the meetings in strategic sectors and publicly hold a line of rigor.