What’s the future for the China-Italy relationship?

Image: Vox Expana

Wang Yi, head of diplomacy of the Communist Party of China, will visit Italy to try to smooth Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s edges and renew the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2019. The relationship between Beijing and Rome has in fact taken somewhat of a sudden turn with the election of far-right leader Giorgia Meloni as Italian Prime Minister in September 2022. A few days after her victory, Meloni called the MoU signed by China and Italy on the Belt and Road Initiative four years ago “a big mistake”.

Italy was, and still is, the first and only G7 country to sign an MoU with China regarding the New Silk Road. If Meloni does not pull out of the deal, it will be automatically renewed in March 2024. In other words, Italy must decide whether or not to discontinue the BRI partnership over the next 12 months. 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.

A new Chinese ambassador and an official visit to mend the situation

Yi is not only visiting Italy. Between 14 and 22 February, he will be visiting Italy, France, Hungary, and Russia. Moreover, Yi is expected to attend the 59th Munich Security conference. Yi’s visit to Italy follows the appointment of a new Chinese ambassador in Rome. Jia Guide, the former Chinese ambassador in Peru, officially started his new position in Italy in January. 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.

Interviewed by Italian state-owned media, Guide said that, since Italy and China signed the MoU in 2019, Italy and China developed a strong relationship. The new ambassador pointed out that Italy is the EU country that signed the most agreements with China, especially when it comes to the export of agricultural products in the Union. China is also Italy’s first Asian commercial partner, with volumes exchanged in 2022 reaching a new record of over 77 billion euros.

Image: © Wang Lutong

Giorgia Meloni’s stance against the New Silk Road

Days after her election as the first Italian female Prime Minister, Meloni expressed her plan to not renew Italy’s adhesion to the New Silk Road. Her reasons included the most recent development involving China, including China’s repression of Hong Kong activists, its claims over Taiwan, and the discrimination against the Uyghurs. Meloni also added to the list China’s controversial stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Back in September, the Chinese embassy in Italy pointed out China’s discontent concerning Meloni’s statements regarding Taiwan. Moreover, Meloni pointed out that the EU should focus on its own initiatives rather than joining the BRI. The Italian Prime Minister never hid her atlanticist positions and his closeness with the current Republic ideas in the United States. According to her, priority should be given to the Global Gateway, the EU initiative to invest in infrastructure development all around the world between 2021 and 2027.

Recent China-Italy developments

The first Memorandum of Understanding between China and Italy was signed in March 2019. The two parties agreed on improving the connectivity between the two countries by collaborating with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to finance various projects. The main purpose of this cooperation was to link the Italian transport system with both the TEN-T network and the New Silk Road.

In 2019, MoUs were signed between the Chinese Communications Construction Company and the ports of Trieste and Genoa, but they did not lead to concrete developments. In fact, the construction of a BRI terminal in the port of Vado Ligure, near Genoa, is a result of an older agreement signed in 2016.

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Author: Marco Raimondi

Marco Raimondi is an editor of RailFreight.com, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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