GT Voice: Italy's BRI decision should be made without US influence
Published: Jul 24, 2023 10:25 PM
Illustration: Tang Tengfei/Global Times

Illustration: Tang Tengfei/Global Times

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said that US President Joe Biden had never challenged her on the issue of Rome being part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Reuters reported on Saturday.

Her remarks came as Italy must decide whether to renew its BRI deal with China, which is set to expire early next year. It's become a topic of growing attention these days and some Western media outlets have played up the uncertainty.

Yet, the uncertainty doesn't mean it is acceptable or appropriate for the BRI deal, which is only between China and Italy, to become a topic of discussion between Italy and the US. This may explain why it seems odd and deliberate for Meloni to specifically clarify that Biden never raised the issue with her, especially against the background of her upcoming visit to the US. 

To use a Chinese saying, the clarification is like writing a sign that reads "No 300 taels of silver were buried here" after literally burying them right there. As the saying in English goes, "Nothing to see here, move along." It merely reveals what it may hide.

Given American politicians' constant smearing and vilification of the BRI, it is hard to believe that they will pass up such an opportunity to discredit the BRI by not exerting any pressure or influence as Italy makes its decision.

Indeed, it wasn't the first time for the US to hit out at Italy over the BRI. In March 2019, a White House National Security Council spokesman told the Financial Times that the US was skeptical about the benefits that the Italian government's endorsement of the BRI would bring, and urged "all allies and partners, including Italy, to press China to bring its global investment efforts into line with accepted international standards and best practices."

While it is not clear whether Italy will be able to withstand the US pressure or influence, we still hope that it have a sober head and not allow the decision to be carried away by geopolitics.

Fundamentally, there is a serious divergence of interests in the Italian and American stands on the BRI. Ever since China proposed the BRI, the US has viewed it as a strategic expansion of China, a challenge to the US-led development model around the world. With the BRI offering a new model of support for economic development, the US-led development model has faced unprecedented challenges. Thus, in order to prevent the BRI from developing, the US has spared no effort in denigrating the initiative. Also, curbing the development of the BRI is in line with the US strategy of containing China's development.

From the perspective of Italy, however, the BRI is actually an important way for China and Italy to strengthen cooperation, which serves the interests of both sides. Italy was the end of the Silk Road from China to Europe in ancient times. And the re-connection between Italy and modern China has the significance of creating new history.

After the signing of the BRI agreement, the strategic level of China-Italy relations was enhanced, resulting in many direct and indirect positive effects, the Chinese Ambassador to Italy, Jia Guide, said in June. 

For instance, from 2019 to 2022, bilateral trade increased by nearly 42 percent, reaching nearly $78 billion. Italy's exports to China increased by 42 percent from 2019 to 2021. 

So, if Italy moves to follow the strategic direction of the US, it will hurt its own interests, and it may end up harming its autonomy in foreign relations.

In recent months, Meloni has said on different occasions that Italy can have excellent relations with China even without being part of a strategic pact. Nonetheless, the potential impact is worrying. If Italy decides to withdraw from a platform that demonstrated mutual political trust and improved the strategic level of cooperation between the two countries, there is every reason to be concerned about the potential negative impact. 

Therefore, it is hoped that Italy avoids political interference and offers a stable basis for the development of bilateral economic relations.