The global conversation surrounding the controversial Beijing-initiated Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) presents a challenging and complex issue with far-reaching consequences. Manyglobal leaders and diplomats are debating the risks and rewards of participating in the project, and trying to figure out the best way to distance themselves without giving offense to Beijing. Maurizio Crosetto, the new Italian Foreign Minister, is among those grappling with this conundrum, as Italy is the first G7 nation to agree to an investment plan with Beijing.
The spokesman for Italy’s Foreign Ministry, Mario Orfeo, said in an interview that the decision was taken in an effort to protect the needs of both nations. “We understand that China is a competitor, but at the same time a partner,” Orfeo said. “The government’s intention is to ensure strong economic relations with China that are beneficial to both nations.” The deal made between China and Italy was signed in March of 2019 after negotiations that took more than a year.
Crosetto, said: “The issue today is: how to walk back (from the BRI) without damaging relations [with Beijing]. Because it is true that China is a competitor, but it is also a partner.” One of the chief concerns surrounding the agreement is that with China’s newfound presence in the Mediterranean, a region that has traditionally been seen as in the Western sphere of influence, Europe could be ceding some of its international influence. There is also the concern that China, with its massive economic might, could destabilize local economies with unfairly competitive business practices.
In response to these concerns, Crosetto believes that Italy has to take a careful and cautious approach. He advocates for taking well-considered steps to guard against China’s long-term ambitions, all while being cognizant of Beijing’s own interests in the region. He believes that Europe should be proactive in both addressing the potential risks of the BRI while also embracing the potential opportunities.
Crosetto acknowledges that it is not easy to walk back from the Belt and Road without exacerbating tensions with Beijing. As such, he has proposed that Italy take a more inclusive approach to working with other nations in the Mediterranean and that the country actively look for opportunities to cooperate. He also believes that a joint effort by the European Union is paramount to ensuring that the interests of all parties in the BRI are taken into consideration.
Overall, it is clear that navigating the global environment with regards to the Belt and Road Initiative is a delicate undertaking. Many nations, including Italy, find themselves having to weigh the risks and rewards of engaging with China while also ensuring that the security and economic interests of the region are protected. It is encouraging to see that Crosetto is taking a measured and informed approach to the issue, mindful of the need to create a world that is both open and secure.