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Italy’s PM Says Good Relations With China Possible Without Belt & Road Agreement

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Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Sunday that better relations with China were still achievable even the country was not a part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) agreement, as her government considers moving out of the initiative.

The BRI initiative, which aims to restore the historic Silk Road to connect China with Asia, Europe, and beyond through significant infrastructure spending, has only attracted Italy, one of the major Western nations.

Meloni said it was too soon to predict the outcome of Italy’s decision on whether to be involved in the project, which it signed up for in 2019, bringing condemnation from Washington and Brussels, in an interview with the Il Messaggero daily. “Our assessment is very delicate and touches upon many interests,” she added.

The BRI agreement will have an automatic renewal until either party gives the other at least three months’ notice that it is terminating it. The current agreement expires in March 2024.

Meloni expressed her opposition to the 2019 act of Italy’s entrance in the agreement with China. She said that she lacked the “political will” to support Chinese growth into Italy or Europe. The statement was made in an interview with Reuters last year, just before she was elected president in a September election. “This means it is possible to have good relations, also in important areas, with Beijing, without necessarily these being part of an overall strategic design,” she said.

Italy was the only nation from the Group of Seven (G7) to sign the Belt and Road Memorandum, but Meloni pointed out that as a European or Western nation, Italy did not have the closest economic and trade relations to China.

Italy was highly unlikely to renew the Belt and Road agreement, a senior Italian government official said.

As Rome reviews a shareholder agreement at tyre manufacturer Pirelli’s, whose biggest stakeholder is China’s Sinochem, the final observation of the government’s approach towards China is yet to be seen.

Most G7 nations, especially those with export-heavy economies like Japan and Germany, count China as one of their top export clients.

G7 leaders agreed to “de-risk” without “decoupling” from China at a summit last weekend. This stance reflected concerns from Europe and Japan about pushing Beijing too hard, according to officials and academics.

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