The Belt and Road initiative in Italy

06.24.2023

Italy’s officially joining the China-led Belt and Road Initiative sparked a fierce debate. By analysing five fields of cooperation, the volume sheds light on whether the bilateral agreement has brought about an intensification of bilateral collaboration as wished by the Italian government as the time and whether the concerns around it have materialized.

In 2013, when Xi Jinping launched his plans for a connectivity plan to connect Eurasia, few would have imagined that what came to be known as the Belt and Road Initiative would become such a polarised initiative.

Although the contours of the project were not clear, for several years, and since its launch, the BRI was widely welcomed. The European Union started a series of collaborations between the Chinese BRI and European projects in the frame of the EU—China connectivity platform. Then, criticisms and concern became increasingly common.

Part of the backlash on the BRI is directly linked to the initiative itself and some of its characteristics, such as the lack of transparency, unclarity over labour rights, as well as social and environmental repercussions. However, large part of the criticism the BRI has received is due to the political implication of the so- called rise of China, and some related growing tensions with the US.

While China was becoming more authoritarian and less adherent to international laws (as further confirmed by the repression perpetrated in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region), its growing global influence has casted a shadow over any foreign policy initiative that would feed Beijing’s strength and influence.

The rising to power of the former US president Donald Trump coincided with new and amplified concerns related to China’s relative gain of power and translated some of those into the so-called ‘Trade War’, and, later on, into a war of narratives that later on will be fuelled by the pandemic of Covid-19. It must be said that the US has roughly 800 military bases outside of its national territory (China only 4) and the countries that refuse Washington’s forces on their soil are nevertheless often surrounded by them. On top of this, the concerns expressed by the Trump administration were hardly new. And yet, under the Trump’s administration they found an ‘undiplomatic expression’ that escalated the tensions between the two countries, further polarising the debate.

Against this drawback, it comes as no surprise that the signing of the Memorandum of Understating (MoU) by the Italian government and the People’s Republic of China attracted much criticism, sparking a heated debate. This volume sheds light on what the consequences of this political action are. Although the MoU between Italy and China has been widely discussed, no thorough study has been conducted so far to assess its outcome. The Belt and Road initiative in Italy aims to fill this void, and does so by providing a thorough analysis on the results of one of the most controversial memoranda of understanding ever signed.

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