Italy weighs the pros and cons of China’s BRI

Briefly: Italy is the only member of the G7 (a club of seven wealthy nations) currently involved in China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI – a trillion dollar global infrastructure program). But there are reports Italy may quit.

Rome has until the end of the year to make a call before Italy’s BRI membership renews automatically, much like that streaming subscription you keep forgetting to cancel.

Why’d Italy join the BRI in the first place?

  • 📉 It was feeling the effects of a debt crisis at the time (2019)
  • 🏗️ This made it tough for Rome to invest in much-needed infrastructure, and
  • 🤝 The government of the day saw China’s BRI as the solution

So why’s it now thinking of leaving?

  • 🤷 The BRI hasn’t really delivered on the promise of new infrastructure
  • 😨 Public attitudes towards China have shifted, and
  • ☟ Rome has faced pressure from the US and EU to re-think the BRI

Intrigue’s take: Despite best efforts to find a middle ground, the world always seems to find a way to force a choice: in this case, Italy can either keep China happy (by sticking with the BRI) or keep the West happy (by ditching the BRI).

Given the BRI’s limited results in Italy, Rome’s decision really comes down to what message it wants to send. And that in turn depends on what costs it’s willing to absorb. It’ll be well aware of China’s willingness to impose economic costs on countries that don’t play ball.

Also worth noting:

  • Estimates vary, but one recent Shanghai-based study says China has invested about $1T across the 148 BRI member states since 2013.
  • Before becoming prime minister last year, Meloni said it was “a big mistake” for Italy to join the BRI.
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