The Italians learn Chinese: should others in the EU follow their lead?

Leaders of China and Italy shake hands before their talks in Rome
Rome, March 23, 2019: Chinese President Xi Jinping with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte during his two-day visit to Italy (source: dpa)
  • Rome is desperate for institutional financial investors willing to finance Italy’s increasingly massive public debt
  • The country is also groping for new infrastructure investment and infusion of new technologies
  • The EU currently treats the newly powerful China as more of a part of the problem than a solution, but this attitude may change

Italy’s foreign policy rarely makes headlines in the global media. Its political leaders prefer to concentrate on domestic affairs. In the international arena, Rome has been happy to follow the guidelines suggested by the United States and the NATO alliance. In some cases, this quiet obedience turned out not to serve Italy’s best interests (such as the 2011 military action against Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi). Overall, the West has considered Italy a loyal ally, both militarily and in terms of global foreign trade strategy.

Last March, however, after having embarked on rather questionable reforms to the detriment of economic growth and budgetary prudence, the Italian government managed to make Western diplomats uneasy. It started its own foreign policy with China and joined the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project – apparently with no prior consultation with Brussels or Washington.

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