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Italy ends months of doubt, officially quits China's ambitious Belt and Road initiative project

Notably, Italy became the first and so far only major Western nation to join the programme, dismissing concerns from the United States that it would enable China to gain control of sensitive technologies and vital infrastructure.

Ajeet Kumar Edited By: Ajeet Kumar @Ajeet1994 Rome Published on: December 07, 2023 7:38 IST
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Image Source : GOVERNO.IT Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Italy has officially informed China that it is quitting the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), two government sources told Reuters on Wednesday, ending months of doubt over Rome's future in the ambitious project. Italy in 2019 became the first and so far only major Western nation to join the programme, dismissing concerns from the United States that it would enable China to gain control of sensitive technologies and vital infrastructure.

Why did Italy pull out from BRI

However, when Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni took office last year, she said she wanted to withdraw from the deal, which is modelled on the old Silk Road that linked China to the West, saying it had brought no significant gains to Italy.

The 2019 accord expires in March 2024 and would have been automatically renewed unless Rome gave at least three months' written warning that it was pulling out. A government source said Beijing had been given a letter "in recent days" informing the Chinese government that Italy would not be renewing the pact.

"We have every intention of maintaining excellent relations with China even if we are no longer part of the Belt and Road Initiative," a second government source said. "Other G7 nations have closer relations with China than we do, despite the fact they were never in (the BRI)," he added. Italy will assume the presidency of the G7 in 2024.

Why BRI is facing criticism from India and the US?

With the BRI, China has become a major financer of development projects on a par with the World Bank.  Xi’s initiative has built power plants, roads, railroads and ports around the world and deepened China’s ties with Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Mideast. However the massive loans backing the projects have burdened poorer countries with heavy debts, in some cases leading to China taking control of those assets.

The Chinese government says the initiative has launched more than 3,000 projects and “galvanized” nearly $1 trillion in investment.

It has also attracted criticism from the US, India and others that China is engaging in “debt trap” diplomacy: Making loans Beijing knew governments would likely default on, enabling Chinese interests to take control of the assets. An oft-cited example is a port that the Sri Lankan government ended up leasing to a Chinese company for 99 years. Many economists say China did not make the bad loans intentionally.

(With inputs from agencies)

Also Read: China calls on G20 leaders to prioritise development cooperation, oppose politicisation of issues

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