Italy’s Belt and Road Deal With China Widens Rifts in the Euro-Atlantic Alliance

Italy’s Belt and Road Deal With China Widens Rifts in the Euro-Atlantic Alliance
Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at Rome’s Villa Madama, March 23, 2019 (AP photo by Andrew Medichini).

On March 23, Italy officially joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, an expansive development strategy first unveiled in 2013 that aims to build a network of roads, railways and ports connecting China with more than 60 countries across Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

In addition to the memorandum of understanding on the infrastructure-building initiative, signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Rome last week, the two countries agreed on a constellation of deals worth 2.5 billion euros ($2.8 billion), ranging from banking and energy to sports. The visit’s outcome reflects deepening relations between the eurozone’s third-largest economy and the Asian powerhouse.

Italy is the first member of the Group of Seven, or G-7, to back the BRI, in what some have seen as a defiant act toward an already embattled European Union and a diplomatic coup for Xi. The decision to sign up to the initiative bears the stamp of the Five Star Movement, the euro-critic, anti-establishment party that, along with the far-right League, governs the country in a populist coalition. Matteo Salvini, the head of the League and deputy prime minister, took a more circumspect view of the deal, but expressed support as long as it did not undermine Italy’s national interests.

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