Italy on Saturday became the first European Union and Group of 7 country to join China’s expansive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), drawing concern from the U.S. and European allies.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Rome saw a total of 29 deals signed, altogether worth 2.5 billion euros ($2.8 billion). They were focused on agricultural, finance and energy sectors, and opened up new access to the Chinese market for major Italian energy and engineering firms.
Western critics warn of Chinese debt traps and describe the initiative as a ploy to expand geopolitical and strategic influence, while Beijing pursues links to Europe and Africa via South Asia and the Middle East to expedite and increase the export of Chinese goods.
China and the U.S. are in the process of negotiations to end their protracted trade war, while Washington tries to combat what it sees as a security threat posed by Chinese telecommunications companies, particularly its largest, Huawei. The U.S. says Huawei’s role in building 5G internet infrastructure around the world could allow the Chinese government to spy on users, a claim Beijing rejects.
Earlier this month, the official Twitter account of the U.S. National Security Council posted a tweet describing Italy as a major global economy, saying that “Endorsing BRI lends legitimacy to China’s predatory approach to investment and will bring no benefits to the Italian people.”