06/12/2023 – 20:54
An initiative called the “New Silk Road” is seen as a Chinese attempt to expand influence around the globe. Critics denounce losses to poorer countries and interference in local policies. Italy decided to withdraw from the Chinese initiative for global investment in infrastructure known as the New Silk Road (Belt and Road Initiative). The decision came four years after Rome signed the agreement with Beijing.
According to reports published this Wednesday (06/12) in several Italian press outlets, the decision was communicated to Beijing three days ago discreetly, without there being an official announcement. According to the AFP news agency, the objective of all this discretion would be to “keep the channels of political dialogue open”.
The Chinese initiative is seen by many as an attempt by Beijing to buy political influence in the countries that join it. For Rome, however, the economic benefits of the agreement were less than expected.
The pact with Beijing was signed in 2019 by then Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. The lack of transparency in the terms of the agreement generated distrust among European partners. Italian participation would be automatically renewed in March 2024, unless the country informs its decision to leave the initiative before the end of this year.
The government of ultra-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, which opposed the agreement, feared that the withdrawal would be seen by the Chinese as a provocation, and that this could result in retaliation against Italian companies.
This Wednesday, the Italian Foreign Minister, Antonio Tajani, only said that Italy seeks to “relaunch the strategic partnership” with China, without, however, confirming the exit from the pact.
The news broke in the Italian press shortly before the start of a high-level meeting between China and the European Union, the first since 2019, where trade issues will be discussed.
Expanding China’s global influence
China claims that more than 150 countries – from Uruguay to Sri Lanka – have already joined the initiative, which is a priority for President Xi Jinping’s government to expand Chinese influence to other parts of the globe.
Beijing says it has awarded more than two trillion dollars (R$9.8 trillion) in contracts around the world, ranging from high-speed railways in Southeast Asia to large-scale energy, transport and infrastructure projects across Central Asia .
Proponents of the New Silk Road praise the fact that the initiative brings resources and economic growth to the Global South, while its critics denounce that the agreement leaves the poorest countries mired in huge debts.
Many, especially in the West, are concerned about a supposed Chinese attempt to restructure the world order in its own way in order to obtain geopolitical advantages. Opposition voices in the countries that are part of the initiative denounce China’s maneuvers to exert greater influence on local politics.
The United States has already warned that China could use the initiative as a pretext to build military bases around the globe, under the argument of acting in defense of its investments.
rc (AFP, DPA)
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