Italy Spurns China’s Belt and Road

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in Bali, Indonesia, on Nov. 16, 2022. (Photo by Shen Hong/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Four years ago, Italy became the first and only G-7 member to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Now it wants out.

Joining the global infrastructure project was an “improvised and atrocious” decision, Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto said late last month. “The issue today is, how to walk back without damaging relations? Because it is true that while China is a competitor, it is also a partner.”

Italy’s planned withdrawal marks a major blow to the ambitious, multi-continent initiative, which seeks to connect Asia to Europe, Latin America, and Africa through the construction of ports, roads, railways, and pipelines. It also signals the European Union’s broader shift away from Beijing at a tense geopolitical moment, as the United States looks across the Atlantic for partners in countering China’s global influence.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni put her stake in the ground early on, deriding a previous administration’s decision to join the BRI as a “big mistake” before taking office last October. A visit to Washington, D.C., last month and a one-on-one meeting with President Joe Biden appeared to strengthen this conviction, despite the White House’s early misgivings about Meloni’s far-right government. A joint statement from Meloni and Biden after the trip affirmed their countries’ commitment to “free, open, prosperous, inclusive, and secure Indo-Pacific,” adding that they would collaborate to deal with the “opportunities and challenges” posed by China. 

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