Xi Jinping's dream to connect the entire world economy with Chinese-built infrastructure is poised to claim its biggest victory yet
- Italy is set to sign a memorandum of understanding with China to take part in its giant Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) trade project, the Financial Times reported.
- The BRI aims to link China with dozens of countries around the world with mostly Chinese infrastructure.
- Italy, the 8th-biggest economy in the world, would be the largest so far to join the BRI.
- The White House National Security Council said it was "skeptical" of the investment and warned that the BRI is "made by China, for China's initiative."
It cited Michele Geraci, an undersecretary in Italy's economic development ministry, who said: "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."He added that the negotiation of the MOU "is not over yet, but it is possible that it will be concluded in time for [Xi's] visit."
It's not clear whether the MOU would cover the port of Genoa project.
The BRI, which went into effect in 2013, is divided between six land routes, collectively named the Silk Road Economic Belt, and one maritime route, the Maritime Silk Road. Along those roads are railroads, gas pipelines, shipping lanes, and other infrastructure projects.China is estimated to have invested between $1 trillion and $8 trillion into the project. It is one of Xi's personal priorities, and was written into the country's constitution in 2017.
Many major economies, including the US and India, have been reluctant to join the BRI amid growing concern over China's military and political ambitions with their trade projects and tech exchanges, and its global trade war with the US.Currently at the center of global suspicions over China is telcom giant Huawei's plan to install 5G networks around the world. Earlier this year the US Department of Justice charged Huawei with fraud and IP theft, and called the company a threat to national security.
China has also been accused of offering loans at high interest to economies which struggle to pay them back. A notable case is Sri Lanka, which in 2017 handed over an entire port in its south to China because it couldn't afford to pay back loans.Last year Malaysia axed $22 billion worth of infrastructure projects with China last year, citing an inability to pay back their loans given its mounting national debt.
'Made by China, for China's initiative'The White House National Security Council warned against Italy's joining the BRI. Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the council, told the FT: "We view BRI as a 'made by China, for China's initiative.'"
"We are skeptical that the Italian government's endorsement will bring any sustained economic benefits to the Italian people, and it may end up harming Italy's global reputation in the long run," he added.
The EU appears split over its attitude to China's economic influence. France and Germany have also been mulling policies to limit China's economic influence, like imposing more stringent screening measures on foreign investment.Meanwhile, countries like Greece and Portugal have welcomed Chinese investment. The Port of Piraeus, Greece's largest seaport, is majority-owned by the state-owned China Ocean Shipping Company, also known as COSCO.
Some experts believe that China is cracking down extra hard on its frontier regions, notably Xinjiang, to protect its BRI projects located around them.
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