Counties ‘Wake Up in Dependency’, Germany Warns after Italy’s BRI Deal with China
Germany’s top diplomat has spiced up his criticism of Italy’s deal with China with a call for EU unity vis-a-vis top global powers such as China, Russia, and the USA.
The decision of Italy’s populist government to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been met with sharp criticism and warnings by Germany in a position formulated by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
Italy became on Saturday the first G-7 member and EU heavyweight to sign up for the BRI, the signature foreign policy project of Chinese President Xi Jinping, enraging Washington, Brussels, Paris, and Berlin who fear the New Silk Road initiative spreads Beijing’s political influence and unfair practices.
Although a total of 13 other EU member states – from Estonia in the north, to Greece in the south, to Portugal in west – had already joined China’s BRI, Italy’s joining as the first major Western power to do so has sent shockwaves throughout the capitals of its main allies. The largest EU state to join the Belt and Road Initiative so far had been Poland.
The United States, the EU, Germany, and, most recently, France’s President Emmanuel Macron, who received Chinese President Xi on Sunday after the latter’s visit in Italy, all worry about China using its various infrastructure investments to boost its political clout and acquire sensitive technology, including through what has been called “debt-trap diplomacy”.
The most notorious example alleged to justify the said label has been Sri Lanka’s having to give China control of a strategic port when it could no longer service its debts to Chinese creditors back in 2017.
Italy’s decision to join the BRI also seems to have been opposed by the junior partner in the ruling coalition, the far-right League party led by Matteo Salvini.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Sunday piled criticism on the Italian government for its decision to sign up for the Belt and Road Initiative.
“Countries that believe they can do clever business with the Chinese will wonder when they suddenly wake up in dependency,” Maas told Die Welt Am Sonntag newspaper, as cited by DW.
“China is not a liberal democracy,” Germany’s top diplomat emphasized.
He argued that short-term lucrative offers presented by China would soon leave a bitter aftertaste.
“We can only survive if we are united [as the European Union],” Maas declared, referring to what he described as a world dominated by major global powers like China, Russia and the United States.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative was announced in 2013 as a plan to establish a “belt” of land corridors and a “road” of maritime shipping lanes in Asia, Europe, and Africa but including also digital infrastructure and cultural exchanges.
The BRI funded by Chinese state-owned firms through loans and credit that could reach USD 1.3 trillion in value by 2027, according to some estimates.
One of the deals that are part of the Italy – China memorandum of understanding signed on Saturday concerns projected Chinese investments of EUR 7 billion (USD 7.9 billion) in the strategic Italian ports of Genoa and Trieste.
(Banner image: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Twitter)