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Italy jumps aboard the BRI train

2019-03-15 13:06:20 China Daily Global

Guiseppe Conte, the Italian prime minister, has confirmed growing speculation that his ry was considering formally endorsing China''s BRI.

Guiseppe Conte, the Italian prime minister, has confirmed growing speculation that his country was considering formally endorsing China's Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, which would make it the first major European Union economy to do so.

At a recent event in Genoa, Conte said he regards BRI as "an opportunity for Italy and for Europe". He said he hoped to attend the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing in late April.

His remarks came ahead of a diplomatic charm offensive to Europe this month by President Xi Jinping, leading to expectations that some progress on the BRI between the two countries might come during the course of that trip.

Italy's populist coalition government would be the first in the G7 leading Western economies to embrace the opportunities of BRI. Among its European G7 partners, the Chinese initiative has had a mixed reception, while in the United States the Trump administration has been openly hostile.

The US national security council spokesman Garrett Marquis warned Italy on Twitter against lending "legitimacy to China's infrastructure vanity project".

Beijing has dismissed Washington's interventions. China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, noting that

the China-Europe relationship sometimes suffers external interference and distraction, said he hoped for more dialogue with the European side.

"We believe that Europe, as a key force in the world, will keep its fundamental, long-term interests in mind and pursue an independent, consistent and forward-leaning China policy," Wang said.

Whatever Washington may think, and despite the reservations of some of its EU partners, the Italian government clearly sees the economic benefits of closer ties with China.

Michele Geraci, undersecretary for economic development, told the Financial Times: "We want to make sure that 'Made in Italy' products can have more success in terms of export volume to China, which is the fastest-growing market in the world."

In the absence of a formal EU-wide stance on how to respond to the BRI, Italy has clearly opted to go its own way. The EU, as a bloc, does not have a direct role in BRI. At the end of this month, member states are set to debate a common approach to Chinese investments into Europe.