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Italy’s BRI Blunder

Although Italy's governing parties are belatedly debating the wisdom of signing onto Chinese President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative, it is already too late for Italy to change course. Having spurned joint EU efforts to secure Europe's strategic sectors, Italy will soon find that it got a raw deal.

BERLIN – Barring any sudden reversals, Italy will formally endorse China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Rome this week. Though US President Donald Trump’s administration recently signaled its disapproval of Italy’s engagement with China’s massive transnational infrastructure investment scheme, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte confirmed on March 15 that the government will proceed with signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU).

The MoU will come at a high political cost for Italy, while offering only limited economic benefits. Nonetheless, it has been in the pipeline for quite some time. Italian Undersecretary of State for Economic Development Michele Geraci, the head of the Ministry of Economic Development’s “China Task Force,” has made formal endorsement of the BRI his pet project. And Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio has publicly committed to signing the document.

Moreover, securing Italy’s official endorsement of the BRI is Xi’s main reason for visiting. Italy is a member of the Group of Seven (G7), a founding member of the European Union, and the eurozone’s third-largest economy, which means that its participation will give Xi a significant political boost at home.