Italy becomes first G7 nation to join China's Belt and Road project

07:50 PM | 24 Mar, 2019
Italy becomes first G7 nation to join China's Belt and Road project
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ROMEItaly has become the first member of the Group of Seven industrialized powers to endorse China’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure project.

The signing ceremony was the highlight of a three-day trip to Italy by Chinese President Xi Jinping at a time when the United States is locked in a trade war with China.

Chinese and Italian firms signed a total of 29 deals, including in the energy, steel and gas pipeline sectors, amounting to €2.5bn.

On behalf of Italy, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, leader of the populist Five Star Movement, signed the umbrella deal (memorandum of intent) making Italy formally part of the Economic Silk Road and The Initiative for a Maritime Silk Road for the 21st Century.

Ministers then signed deals over energy, finance, and agricultural produce, followed by the heads of big Italian gas and energy, and engineering firms – which will be offered entry into the Chinese market.

China’s Communications and Construction Company will be given access to the port of Trieste to enable links to central and eastern Europe. The Chinese will also be involved in developing the port of Genoa.

The project is seen as a new Silk Road which, just like the ancient trade route, aims to link China to Europe. Italy’s European Union allies and the United States have expressed concern at China’s growing influence.

The new Silk Road has another name – the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – and it involves a wave of Chinese funding for major infrastructure projects around the world, in a bid to speed Chinese goods to markets further afield. Critics see it as also representing a bold bid for geo-political and strategic influence.

It has already funded trains, roads, and ports, with Chinese construction firms given lucrative contracts to connect ports and cities – funded by loans from Chinese banks.

The levels of debt owed by African and South Asian nations to China have raised concerns in the West and among citizens – but roads and railways have been built that would not exist otherwise.

Italy is the first member of the G7 group of developed world economies to take the money offered by China. It is one of the world’s top 10 largest economies – yet Rome finds itself in a curious situation.