Italian Foreign Minister Expresses Doubt with Belt and Road Membership On China Visit

Italian Foreign Minister Expresses Doubt with Belt and Road Membership On China Visit
Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani

The Lede: Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani signaled his country’s disappointment with the outcomes of participating in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the current economic ties with China on his recent visit to Beijing. The visit comes after several high-level visits by officials from other Western countries to China as well as a visit by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to Washington last month.

What We Know:

  • Tajani met with his counterpart Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday. He expressed that many in Italy are not satisfied with the country’s agreement as part of the BRI. Italy’s membership in the BRI arrangement is set to automatically renew in March next year unless Rome requests its cancellation by this December.
  • Wang insisted that there have been positive results to Italy’s participation in the BRI, highlighting the growth of the two countries’ bilateral trade from $50 billion to nearly $80 billion and that Italy’s exports to China increased by around 30% over the past five years.
  • Tajani’s trip from Sunday to Tuesday also includes preparations for a planned visit by Meloni in mid-October that is expected to confirm Italy's exit from the BRI deal.

The Background: Italy is the only G7 country that has signed on to cooperate with China under the BRI under then-premier Giuseppe Conte in 2019. In recent months, Rome has called into question that cooperation agreement. In 2021, the previous Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi froze the BRI agreement and blocked large-scale Chinese investments in sectors considered sensitive due to strategic importance. Meloni visited Washington in July and pledged to cooperate more with the U.S. in the face of challenges regarding China.

Likely Outcomes:

  • Italy’s political establishment has likely already made up its mind on leaving the agreement and will probably make it official before the end of the year. If the agreement on BRI actually falls through, it would be a diplomatic embarrassment for China. Both sides likley appreciate the desire to save face on the matter so that the two countries may look to maintain good relations as a bookmark and signal the intention to work together in the future as a way to step out of the agreement as gracefully as possible.
  • The end of BRI cooperation with Italy represents a break in the foothold China has had in Europe. There will likely be continued trade and economic ties among the most significant European countries and China, but there will be more caution and restraint, especially in sensitive industries. In the near future, China may focus its European gaze on Eastern Europe and the Balkans where it has experienced more receptive outlooks.


"The Italian message is very clear we want to work with China, we want to be present in China’s market, we are ready for Chinese investment, but as I said, it is important [to have a] level playing field…We want to continue to work closely with China, but we must also analyze exports; the Belt and Road Initiative has not produced the results we were hoping for." – Antonio Tajani, foreign minister of Italy

“The thousand-year friendship inherited from the ancient Silk Road has endured. China and Italy should adhere to the right way of getting along with each other.” – Wang Yi, foreign minister of China

“Beijing is unlikely to start a new fight with a European capital at a time when it is desperate to attract European investment. The fact that it has not retaliated against the Dutch for their chip controls [which limit access to advanced chip-making technology] shows that Beijing is prepared to look the other way in pursuit of stability in EU-China ties.” – Noah Barkin, Europe-China expert at the Rhodium Group

Good Reads:

Italy Says China Trade Deal Not Meeting Expectations (VOA)

Italian Foreign minister Antonio Tajani visits China as country’s participation in Belt and Road Initiative hangs in balance (SCMP)

Despite Rome's scepticism, China says Belt and Road cooperation with Italy 'fruitful' (Reuters)

Many Italian parties are against China’s Belt and Road Initiative, foreign minister says (CNBC)

China touts the benefits of its 'Belt and Road' initiative to Italy, which may end the agreement (ABC)

China touts ‘Belt and Road’ to Italy amid growing doubts in Rome (Al Jazeera)