Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto criticized Italy’s decision to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) four years ago, referring to it as an “improvised and atrocious” choice. He pointed out that the move did little to boost Italian exports and is now part of an administration exploring ways to break free from the BRI agreement, according to Reuters.
Italy became the only major Western country to join the BRI under a previous government. The BRI aims to rebuild the old Silk Road and connect China with Asia, Europe, and beyond through substantial infrastructure spending. However, critics view it as a means for China to extend its geopolitical and economic influence.
The flagship project of the BRI, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), is based in Gwadar, Balochistan. Since its inception in 2013, CPEC has been embroiled in controversy. Baloch nationalists and “pro-independence” groups consider it an “imperialist” project designed to exploit Balochistan’s resources without adequately benefiting its people. Moreover, the nationalists also see it as China’s attempt to extend it’s economic and political influence in the region.
In the interview with the Corriere della Sera newspaper, Crosetto expressed the challenge of walking back from the BRI without damaging relations with Beijing. He acknowledged China as both a competitor and a partner.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni stated that her government had until December to decide on the BRI following a meeting with US President Joe Biden. She also announced her upcoming travel to Beijing.
In an interview with the TG5 Italian news programme, Meloni highlighted the “paradox” that Italy, despite being part of the BRI, is not the G7 country with the strongest trading links to China. She emphasized that strong trading partnerships can exist outside of the BRI.