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Italy Tells China That It Will Leave Belt & Road Initiative

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According to government sources on Wednesday, Italy formally notified China that it was leaving the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), allaying concerns that the decision would sour relations and hurt the Italian economy.

Italy disregarded American concerns that it might allow China to seize control of critical infrastructure and sensitive technologies, becoming the first and so far only significant Western country to join the trade and investment programme in 2019.

But, upon taking office last year, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni declared her desire to back out of the agreement, which was supported by President Xi Jinping, claiming that Italy had not benefited significantly from it.

“We have every intention of maintaining excellent relations with China even if we are no longer part of the Belt and Road Initiative,” a second government source said. “Other G7 nations have closer relations with China than we do, despite the fact they were never in (the BRI),” he added.

2024 will see Italy lead the G7 as its president.

Since the program’s inception in 2013, over 100 nations have agreements in place with China to collaborate on infrastructure and construction projects related to the Belt and Road Initiative. When he signed up in 2019, the then-prime minister of Italy, Giuseppe Conte, had high expectations for a trade bonanza, but Chinese companies appeared to be the main takers.

Italian exports to China increased from 13 billion euros in 2019 to 16.4 billion euros ($17.7 billion) in 2018. In contrast, Italian data shows that during the same period, Chinese exports to Italy increased from 31.7 billion to 57.5 billion.

Despite not being a part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which draws inspiration from the historic Silk Road that connected China and the West, Italy’s principal trading partners in the euro zone, France and Germany, exported substantially more to China last year.

Seeking to sustain strategic relationships, President Sergio Mattarella is scheduled to visit China at some point in the upcoming year, and Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani visited Beijing in September.

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