China slams Italy over Belt and Road exit comments

'Some forces' in Rome have derailed its participation in Belt and Road initiative with ‘malicious hype’, according to Beijing

China slams Italy over Belt and Road exit comments

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has hinted at pulling the country out of the global trade infrastructure network

China’s Foreign Ministry has excoriated “some forces” within the Italian government over comments that Rome may back out of participation in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. 

The “malicious hype” created by the government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni “goes against the trend of history and will hurt others without benefiting [itself],” the Chinese ministry said in a statement on Friday.

The declaration followed Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto’s denunciation of Italy’s 2019 decision to join the international trade network as an “improvised and atrocious act” in a interview with Corriere della Sera last week. Crosetto openly discussed how Rome might abandon the 29 deals it signed with Beijing, without wrecking the relationship between the two countries.

The issue today is: how to walk back [from the BRI] without damaging relations. Because it is true that China is a competitor, but it is also a partner,” he told the newspaper. 

The minister seemed uneasy about Italy being the only European country and only G7 nation to join the Belt and Road, noting that Italy’s exports to China have increased only slightly while Chinese imports have tripled.

In a Fox News interview last month, Meloni also highlighted Rome’s outlier status, describing it as a “paradox” that while Italy is not the G7 country with the most trade with China, it is the only member of the group to have joined the Belt and Road. 

The PM said she would make a decision before December on whether to pull out of the project, acknowledging that discussions with both the Chinese government and the Italian parliament were required before taking any irreversible actions. 

Meloni’s comments come on the heels of her visit to Washington, in which she acknowledged that she had discussed Italy’s participation in the Chinese initiative with US President Joe Biden, though she has insisted the US is not driving Italy's China policy. 

Washington has exerted significant pressure on its allies to extricate themselves from partnerships and economic deals with Beijing, even though the G7’s own purported alternative to the Belt and Road, the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, only launched last year and lacks anything like the international profile of its competitor.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative seeks to rebuild ancient trade links connecting the country to partners in Europe, Africa, and South America, as well as closer to home. The initiative has spawned over 3,000 infrastructure projects in over 150 countries and attracted investments of about €0.91 trillion ($1 trillion). According to the World Bank, it will help end poverty for nearly 40 million people.