April 13. 2024. 5:34

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Italian MEP: strategic infrastructure must not end up in foreign, Chinese hands

Italian infrastructure and strategic production must not end up in foreign hands, “least of all Chinese,” Carlo Fidanza, Fratelli d’Italia’s (FDI-ECR) head of delegation in the European Parliament, told EURACTIV Italy, as the government will have to decide whether to withdraw or automatically renew the agreements for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – by the end of the year.

The first government led by Giuseppe Conte (5 Stars Movement/5SM) signed the agreement in March 2019 for a five-year term.

Italy was one of the first EU countries to join the BRI to strengthen political and trade relations with China. However, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine considerably altered the geopolitical context, requiring reassessment of the interests at stake.

“Giorgia Meloni and Fratelli d’Italia (FDI) were very critical at the time of the memorandum signing by Conte’s government, who was under pressure from the 5SM,” Fidanza told EURACTIV Italy.

However, he stressed, “subsequent developments have left the protocol effectively unimplemented, and the value today is mainly symbolic.”

“Our infrastructure and strategic production must not end up in foreign hands, least of all Chinese. This is the starting point from which we move,” said Fidanza.

“After that, the EU defined China as a ‘systemic rival’ and works for non-hostile relations even though it is in global competition. The choice [on the BRI] will be made considering both requirements,” he added.

Recently, the founder of the 5SM, former comedian Beppe Grillo, called on his MPs to “open the port of Taranto to large Chinese merchant ships” to, he says, benefit the entire area in southern Italy.

“Grillo and the 5SM have always been Beijing’s fifth column in Italy and we are not surprised by this. It is also not a coincidence that 5SM has become the most Taliban party in pushing for the green transition, which will hand us over and foot to China,” the conservative MEP commented.

“We absolutely disagree. For geopolitical reasons, China is the animator of a movement to subvert the world order concerning liberal democracies. And for economic reasons, because China is an aggressive competitor in a global market where free trade is supposed to dominate but fair trade, meaning fair and well-balanced competition, is not yet established”, he clarified.

Meloni’s party, Fratelli d’Italia (FDI), seems to lean almost entirely toward a move away from Beijing, while EU institutions have been more cautious.

Moreover, trashing agreements with China could hurt Italian exports and make Rome invisible to Chinese President Xi Jinping. But renewal would be an inconsistent move in front of voters and inconvenient for Washington, which has made it clear that it sees China as a partner with Russia, intending to establish a “new world order” that is not American-driven.

Today, China is no longer just an economic and trade partner but also a political and military one, given its role in the war in Ukraine. Beijing recently published a document for peace in Ukraine, appreciated by Moscow and widely criticised by Kyiv and Washington.

According to Fidanza, the Italian government’s attitude to the BRI should be linked to “a sincere engagement on the Ukraine affair, ” which he has not detected so far. On the contrary, “China seems to be taking advantage of a new geopolitical situation by placing Russia in the role of junior partner.”

“If China shows that it is genuinely committed to a positive solution to the war, restoring Ukraine’s recognised borders and withdrawing Russian troops, we can only take positive note. Currently, that seems to me a distant goal,” the MEP said.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is scheduled to visit Beijing this week along with French President Emmanuel Macron, while Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez visited China on Friday, and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is also expected to do the same soon.

EU Chief Diplomat Josep Borrell was optimistic about relations with Beijing: “The Chinese want to be facilitators, not mediators. It is a role to be encouraged.”

(Federica Pascale | EURACTIV.it)