Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Monday that Italy’s transatlantic relationship with the United States is far more important than its relationship with China. Partnerships like NATO and the EU are equally important to Di Maio, as he described them as “absolutely matchless” alongside US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
In 2019, while Di Maio was Italian Minister of Economic Development, he signed on to Italy to participate in Beijing’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. According to CNBC, this initiative falls under Chinese President Xi Jingping with the aim of connecting hundreds of countries both physically and digitally. Initially, the previous Italian government approved the initiative in the hope that China would provide them with an opportunity for further investment. Despite this approval, Italy’s domestic economy has stagnated for more than a decade.
Many skeptics of the program see it as a way for President Jingping to expand his Chinese influence around the world. Another area of concern regarding Italy’s entry into the influential Chinese arena was that the decision followed closely after the European Commission called Beijing a “systemic rival”.
Di Maio has also since issued a statement to Italy’s allies, in particular the US, EU and NATO, assuring them that they “are not just strategic alliances, but alliances of values.” . Di Maio continued to assert that China is simply a “trading partner” and that their relationship “absolutely does not compare with… our value alliances”.
Meanwhile, the United States has worked hard to provide low- and middle-income countries with an alternative to investing with China. The US initiative called Build Back Better World is described as “a constructive initiative to meet the enormous infrastructure needs” of these countries, according to The White House and CBS News. This initiative, which is supported by France, Germany and others, has not yet been openly supported by Italy.
While Italy aims to attribute its recent involvement with China to a weak economy, Italy received the highest share of EU post-pandemic relief and recovery funds at £ 209 billion. Acting cautiously by some of Italy’s allies is not unwarranted, and as fear of Jingping’s influence grows, the international community, which opposes the expansion, must find common ground. between them.
After the EU hardened its stance vis-à-vis China in March, calling it “an economic competitor in search of technological leadership … promoting alternative models of governance”. The EU then criticized countries closely aligned with China. Germany has also played a role in the EU, being tougher on its stance against China. Germany’s main economic lobby, BDI, has also recently started labeling China as a “systemic competitor”. China has started buying out many key European tech producers, which is part of its Made in China 2025 program.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the program aims to make China the world’s leading high-tech maker by using “government grants, state-owned enterprises, and the acquisition of intellectual property” to outperform Western tech industries. This poses quite a security dilemma for countries like the United States and those in the EU because, while many countries have tightened their foreign investment in China, others like Italy are increasing their investments.
The biggest obstacle to cooperation and working with China for countries like Italy would be the pushback from allied countries. This decline could take the form of sanctions, the intervention of international organizations and others. The fact that the United States is discouraging foreign investment in China by starting with the Build Back Better World program is a good start to containing global Chinese influence.