Despite US pressure, this plan will surely work if during a state visit to Italy the Chinese leader offers the most attractive cooperation package, experts noted in an interview with Sputnik.
Last week, spokesperson for the US National Security Council, Garrett Marquis, told The Financial Times that the Belt and Road Initiative is only beneficial to China, not Italy. The paper noted that the United States was irritated by the prospect of Italy joining the Chinese initiative, and warned that the project could significantly harm Rome’s international image.
In China, this statement has been regarded as a complete absurdity. The official representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China Lu Kahn noted that Italy very clearly understands its interests and is able to independently develop its own policy and attitude to the Chinese project.
“Let it be clear that we are looking at the Silk Road towards China to stimulate our exports. This means not a political agreement with China but only assistance to our companies”, the Italian Deputy Prime Minister said.
Wang Yiwei, a professor in the School of International Studies at the Renmin University of China, has told Sputnik that Italy’s banking and financial sectors are facing a crisis, the country needs investments, so it is counting on Chinese capital.
“The United States understands that the Belt and Road Initiative challenges both them and European standards, so they do not want Italy to be part of this project; they discourage it from participating. They also understand that Italy’s joining the Chinese initiative will destroy the unity of the West”.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on 8 March that he could sign a framework agreement to participate in this project when China’s President Xi Jinping visits Italy. The state visit is planned for 22-24 March. “With all the necessary precautions, Italy’s joining to the Silk Road opens up opportunities for our country”, the head of the government said at a seminar on foreign policy in Genoa.
“The success of this visit will depend on what China specifically offers the Italians — which investments and which areas. If this is done, the current government, which always positions itself fairly independently from Brussels and the United States, will respond to the Chinese initiative”.
Giuseppe Conte is planning to attend a summit on cooperation within the framework of the Silk Road in Beijing in April. He promised to bring EU trade standards into the ambitious Chinese project. “This is a strategic choice for the country. Such a choice should be coordinated with traditional partners. For example, through ongoing dialogue with the United States”, Giuseppe Conte said. Meanwhile, he rejected the presumptions that Washington could punish Rome for participating in the Chinese project.
Renzo Cavalieri, an expert in Chinese and East-Asian law and associate professor at the Venice University Ca’ Foscari, in an interview with Sputnik, shared his opinion on why the US is seeking to keep Italy away from this project.
“Clearly, there is currently a confrontation and struggle for influence between the United States and China. The US fears that Italy, as a weak link in the European economy, and in particular among the G7 countries, may become a Trojan horse for the Chinese. In this capacity, it can allow China to penetrate, to establish itself in the European economy”.
Meanwhile, in addition to Portugal, such an agreement with China was signed by a number of other EU states: Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, and Poland.
According to Russian expert Alexander Sergunin, the possible signing of a framework agreement with Italy may push other countries in this direction. He noted that Norway, Iceland, Finland, and Greenland, which has a certain autonomy from Denmark, actively cooperate with China. The direction of the Silk Road to Northern Europe, according to the expert, is already beginning to take shape.
China is not going to “give in” under the pressure of criticism regarding the Belt and Road, said Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a press conference on 8 March. He rejected the view that the project is a “debt trap” for small countries. He compared the project with an “economic pie”, the pieces of which will benefit the local population.
The minister assured that China will continue to promote this initiative despite the growing international criticism of this project. Wang Yi noted that a total of 123 countries and 29 international organisations had signed agreements with China on this project, calling these documents “a voice of support and trust”.
On Monday, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang said that China welcomes Italy’s active participation in the construction of the Belt and Road. This will open a wider space for mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation and bring more benefits to the business community and the public in both countries, he said.
The diplomat noted that bilateral relations between China and Italy are very favourable. Pragmatic cooperation between the two countries in various fields in recent years has also brought rich rewards, making a tangible contribution to the social and economic development of the parties. Expanding mutually beneficial cooperation is in the common interest of both parties and is also their strategic choice.
Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.