GT Voice: Will China-Italy BRI cooperation fall victim to anti-Chinese forces?
Published: May 09, 2023 10:39 PM
Illustration: Tang Tengfei/Global Times

Illustration: Tang Tengfei/Global Times

Western media outlets seemingly never tire of smearing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and whether the Italian government will renew its BRI deal with China, which is set to expire early next year, has recently become a new target among them.

The latest example is a report from the Chinese version of VOA on Tuesday, which said Italian authorities are reviewing whether to renew the BRI memorandum of understanding with China. It also cited anonymous Italian officials reportedly claiming that a lack of economic benefits is an argument for not renewing the deal.

While Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's office has not made any statement on this issue, some Western media outlets have been hyping up the uncertainty. But China-Italy cooperation should not be undermined by such idle reports. China is Italy's largest trading partner in Asia, with bilateral trade maintaining strong growth for the past three consecutive years, which reached a record high of $77.88 billion in 2022. For both China and Italy, it is in each other's interest to continue deepening cooperation. Any move that undermines bilateral relations will directly affect the real interests of both countries.

Given the fact that Western public opinion has always been keen to smear the BRI with conspiracy theories which include "debt traps" and "neocolonialism," it is kind of understandable why they are so concerned about the issue.

As is known to all, Italy in 2019 became the first and so far, the only G7 nation to sign up to the BRI, a China-proposed initiative serving as a key platform for international cooperation. So if the BRI suffered any significant setback in Italy, that would undoubtedly fuel various baseless conspiracies and speculations about the BRI progress in Europe.

Indeed, there have always been some forces in Europe attempting to disrupt or derail the development of the BRI in various countries with ideological values and reasons. For instance, after joining the BRI in 2019, Italy was criticized by some European politicians for potentially enabling China to get control of sensitive technologies and vital infrastructure facilities in Europe.

Due to geopolitical factors between China and Europe, the resistance to Chinese investments' access to European infrastructure facilities has been on the rise in recent years, which is entirely politically driven and subject to considerable US influence. Due to the impact of the US' stigmatization of the BRI and its spread of the "China threat" theory, Western politicians and media outlets have often linked BRI projects to political issues by distorting the purpose of the BRI projects. Because of such political headwinds, some infrastructure investment projects in Europe have been delayed or put on hold over the past years, which is regrettable.

Moreover, many European politicians have been carried away by US-led anti-China atmosphere and considered the BRI participation as the gauge of whether a government is drawing a line with China. What they fail to see is that under the BRI framework, Chinese investments in European countries always eye win-win results.

Take Greece as an example. Since Cosco became a major shareholder in the Greek port of Piraeus, Chinese companies have invested heavily on the port facilities and brought many ships to the port, which has now become one of the most important transshipment hubs in the Mediterranean. The port of Piraeus is now the 24th-largest container port globally, the fourth-largest in Europe and the largest in the eastern Mediterranean. The port's development has been a great boost to the Greek economy. In 2022, Greek exports rose 36.7 percent year-on-year to 54.68 billion euros, marking a record high.

Port development is also a part in the BRI deal between China and Italy. And the Greek example is sufficient to indicate that if the relevant projects go smoothly, the potential for China-Italy cooperation will go far beyond the current level. The same also applies to other European countries.

Some may argue that the EU also has ambitious plans for infrastructure projects, but that doesn't mean there is no place for cooperation with China. China's strength and capabilities in infrastructure projects are obvious to all. There is no need for European countries to give up opportunities for cooperation and mutual benefits because of some paranoid hype.