The Italian government may not be so united against Belt and Road

05.26.2023

The Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has been quite vocal about her position against Italy’s inclusion in the Belt and Road Initiative in 2019. The country’s Ministry of Transport Matteo Salvini, however, recently showed a possibly different attitude. Italy needs to make a decision before the end of 2023 and it is still unclear which way they will go.

Salvini said that he has his idea about the agreement, but he will look for harmony among the government team. This is what he said while participating via video call at the Shipping Forum in Trieste on Monday 22 May, claiming he would soon speak about this with the Prime Minister. Salvini was part of the government coalition that in 2019 signed the Memorandum of Understanding, therefore his idea might be in contrast with Meloni’s.

The current Prime Minister has made it clear that she is not planning on renewing the agreement. The Ministry of Defense, Giulio Crosetto, also stated in November that an extension of the MoU is unlikely. The current agreement expires in March 2024, but renewal is automatic unless one of the parties communicates otherwise at least three months in advance. Salvini’s recent statements might show that the plan to leave the BRI may not be unilaterally shared by the Italian government, and the deadline is approaching.

Italy and the Belt and Road Initaitive

Italy was, and still is, the first and only G7 country to sign an MoU with China regarding the New Silk Road. The agreement was signed by the government coalition led by Giuseppe Conte in 2019, where Salvini acted as Deputy Prime Minister and Ministry of the Interior. It needs to be mentioned that the MoU signed in 2019 did not lead to significant developments when it comes to effective transportation agreements. not renewing the BRI agreement might therefore not lead to significant changes in terms of project development.

Meloni’s reasons to leave the BRI include China’s repression of Hong Kong activists, its claims over Taiwan, the discrimination against the Uyghurs, and China’s controversial stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Concerning China, a new ambassador was recently appointed in Italy: Jia Guide, the former Chinese ambassador in Peru. The choice of Guide for Italy may not be casual after all. In 2019, while working as an ambassador in Lima, Peru joined the BRI that Italy is planning on leaving.

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