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BRI helps to boost Italian exports to China

Xinhua | August 2, 2023


Strengthening cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative has promoted pragmatic cooperation between China and Italy and serves the interests of people from both sides, experts and diplomats said, as Italy reportedly weighs up whether to continue such cooperation.

Aerial photo taken on Aug 12, 2020 shows a China-Europe freight train leaving for Milan, Italy from the Xinzhu Railway Station in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province. [Photo/Xinhua]

In 2019, Italy became the first and only Group of Seven member country to sign a memorandum of understanding on bilateral cooperation with China within the framework of the BRI, during the tenure of then prime minister Giuseppe Conte.

However, in recent months, there has been ongoing speculation that Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's government is considering reversing that decision.

On Sunday, Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto attributed this to an alleged increase in trade imbalance between the two countries, saying that the issue today is how to walk back from the initiative "without damaging relations" with Beijing, because China is a partner as well as a competitor.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday that the BRI provides a new platform for practical cooperation between China and Italy, and Belt and Road cooperation has brought tangible outcomes in the economy, trade and business.

Citing data from the Italian government, the spokesperson said that in the first five months of this year, Italy's exports to China surged 58 percent year-on-year.

From 2019 to 2021, Italy's exports to China increased by 42 percent, according to Chinese Ambassador to Italy Jia Guide. Bilateral trade reached nearly $78 billion in 2022, and China is also Italy's largest trade partner in Asia.

Further tapping into the potential of Belt and Road cooperation conforms to the interests of both sides, the spokesperson added.

Wang Shuo, a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University's School of International Relations, said, "Since the Ukraine crisis, there is a stronger demand for political correctness and unity between the United States and its Western allies."

The US and other G7 members have been calling for "de-risking "and "decoupling" when engaging with China.

Wang also said that frequent transitions of power and political divisions have hindered Italy from forming a coherent and consistent view about the BRI.

The memorandum is set to be automatically renewed in March 2024, and it remains to be seen whether Italy will pull out of the BRI.

It is Italy's own decision whether to renew the deal or not, which China may regret but will respect, Wang said.

Ding Chun, director of Fudan University's Center for European Studies, said that Italy is calculating whether the economic benefits it gains from the BRI would make up for the "political loss" it suffers as a G7 member.

But amid inflation and economic recession, strengthening Belt and Road cooperation with China is conducive to facilitating bilateral investment and promoting bilateral ties, Ding said.

Jia, the ambassador, said in a recent interview with Italian media that China has no intention of pursuing a trade surplus and wants to develop a balanced relationship with Italy.

The deficit does not mean that Italy has "suffered a loss" in trade with China, Jia said, adding that as long as the trade is fair, voluntary and in line with market rules, it will benefit both countries.

He said that China has taken measures to facilitate the export of high-quality Italian products to China and support Italian enterprises in expanding their business in China.