Giorgia Meloni privately signaled to Chinese Premier Li Qiang that Italy is planning to exit from an investment pact that has become a test of her nation’s relations with the US.
During a meeting on Saturday on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in India, Meloni told Li that Italy plans to withdraw from Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative while still looking to maintain friendly relations with Beijing, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named. Italy officially signed up for the pact in 2019.
At a press conference after the G-20, Meloni said she spoke to the Chinese premier about BRI but a decision had yet to be made.
“Belt and Road is not the only element that builds our bilateral relationship with China,” she said, adding that other European nations had been able to negotiate better relationships with Beijing without signing up to the initiative.
The Italian prime minister has been taking her time before deciding how to communicate her government’s decision to exit from the global infrastructure pact, fearing trade retaliation. She had told allies about her intention to withdraw from the initiative months ago, Bloomberg reported.
Meloni’s message to the Chinese premier was first reported by Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. Neither read-out following the meeting between the two prime ministers made reference to the BRI.
Meloni has said she will visit China in the coming months and the issue is sensitive, particularly since China’s ambassador to Italy had warned there would be “negative consequences” for Italy if it withdrew from the agreement.
The planned trip is part of the outreach started by the country’s top diplomat Antonio Tajani. After meeting his Chinese counterpart in Beijing last weekend, Tajani noted that Italy was “actively working to foster dialogue and exchanges in the cultural, economic and scientific fields.”
Li Qiang urged Italy to provide a “fair, just and non-discriminatory” environment for Chinese businesses, while pledging to expand market access for Italian products, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
The BRI was launched by Xi a decade ago to boost economic ties and expand the influence of the world’s second economy.
Italy, like much of Europe, has been caught in the middle as tensions escalate between Washington and Beijing, and that’s been compounded by China’s support for Russia since it invaded Ukraine. European countries are struggling to balance a desire to engage with China on trade and investment while pushing back against claims of economic coercion and human rights concerns, as well as risks associated with becoming too dependent on supplies from China.
Beijing will host a summit celebrating the BRI’s 10th anniversary in October. Russian President Vladimir Putin accepted an invitation from Xi to attend, in what would be his first foreign trip since a warrant for his arrest over alleged war crimes was issued in March by the International Criminal Court.