Earlier this month, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni canceled Italy’s Belt and Road Initiative agreement with China, giving a free and prosperous Europe a Christmas present.
Despite assurances from the center-left Democratic Party, which originally orchestrated the deal, Italy, like most of the 17 European Union countries that signed the deal, has failed to reap many tangible benefits from its relationship with China. Ta. Rather, Beijing used the agreement to strengthen its global power and flex its influence.
More specifically, the Chinese government has used the Belt and Road to divide and alienate Europe, buy ports and other critical infrastructure, corner markets in telecommunications and other critical business sectors, and push European countries has encouraged China to compete for attention and business rather than cooperate. in their own best interests.
From day one, Ms. Meloni has reversed this dynamic and put Europe ahead of China. In 2022, just before Italian parliamentary elections, Meloni announced her support for Taiwan, infuriating the Chinese embassy. In March this year, she visited India, strengthening ties between Rome and New Delhi and further diminishing the importance of China relations.
In late summer, before a trip to Washington in July, Meloni suggested that the Belt and Road deal was nearing its end. But by finally cutting the cord, Meloni showed she had had enough, showed true courage and leadership, and set a positive example for the rest of the transatlantic community.
Still, Rome should not rest easy. China is likely to carry out political and trade retaliation against Italy. Beijing tried to do just that with Lithuania when Vilnius withdrew from the 17+1, the Chinese Communist Party’s diplomatic initiative in Eastern and Central Europe. Moreover, Beijing will continue to target Italian infrastructure, starting with securing interests in the strategic port of Trieste, making Italy vulnerable to Chinese infiltration and putting pressure on the Atlantic alliance in the Mediterranean.
To continue firmly rejecting Beijing’s advances, Rome needs to move its investments closer to home. Take the Port of Taranto as an example. As Italian newspaper La Verita recently reported, it would likely have fallen into the hands of the Chinese government if not for a $60 million investment from a Polish logistics consortium.
But to turn such isolated cases into regular occurrences, Italy needs a broader strategic vision. Reopening the Baltic-Adriatic corridor, which connects southern Europe with Poland and the Caucasus with Central Asia, is a promising idea. And Ms Meloni has already proposed the Mattei Plan, a partnership with North and West Africa to build communities in the Mediterranean.
But the most immediate and obvious next step is for Rome to join the Three Seas Initiative, as Greece did in September. The ‘Three Seas’ refers to the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas, and the already established initiative includes 13 countries working together to build connectivity and create jobs, growth, stability and prosperity. It is. This is in direct contrast to China’s malevolent vision for the region.
By joining, Italy will not only give the initiative a stronger foothold in the Mediterranean, but will also help strengthen ties with the United States and strengthen its ties with China in North Africa, where Beijing is seeking to expand its influence and pressure. There is a possibility that we can work together to curb the influence of It is located on the south side of NATO. Similarly, Italy will also improve relations in this initiative with India, which provides opportunities to expand energy sources and digital connectivity. As a result, both Washington and New Delhi may also increase investment in Italy itself from a pro-Western and anti-China perspective.
Encouragingly, Giorgia Meloni has already expressed interest in the Three Seas Initiative. In July this year, Italian government officials attended an event organized by the Polish and Romanian embassies in Rome and specifically dedicated to this international forum. Furthermore, in September, Italy’s leading think tanks Fale Futuro and the Machiavelli Center hosted an international delegation on Italy’s role in the Three Seas Initiative.
If Rome takes the plunge and joins the Three Seas initiative, Ms. Meloni’s Christmas gift of leaving China may turn out to be a very happy and prosperous New Year indeed.
• James Jay Carafano is an EW Richardson Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Stefano Graziosi is an essayist and political analyst who writes for the Italian newspaper La Verita and the weekly magazine Panorama.