Italy has become the first G7 nation to endorse the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s controversial series of global infrastructure investments, says Miles Johnson in the Financial Times. The two countries signed a non-binding declaration that endorsed the deal as well as “a number of agreements between companies in sectors including energy and steel” worth more than “several billion euros”. Italy’s endorsement has “caused consternation” in Washington and Brussels, “which have voiced concern about China using the initiative to gain influence or control over strategically important assets”.
Italy is clearly hoping to get a share of the billions of dollars that have already been invested by Beijing across more than 60 countries, in disparate infrastructure projects including railways, roads and ports, says The Economist. Indeed, some experts believe the total amount spent in Beijing’s attempt to create a “modern day Silk Road” will “run to $1trn or even more”. But critics say that the deal is “unlikely to guarantee Italian firms access to projects or specific investments” and parts of Italy’s government worry about damaging relationships with the EU and US.
The move is indeed likely to exacerbate tensions between Italy and its European neighbours, says Holly Ellyatt for CNBC. Italy’s anti-establishment coalition has already clashed with Brussels over immigration and its spending plans. Its deal with China is likely to be another source of conflict. But for China’s president, Xi Jinping, the deal is “fantastic”, says Rory Green of TS Lombard. “It’s a really big coup for Xi and it will give him a foothold in the heart of Europe.”