Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni privately hinted to Chinese Premier Li Qiang that Italy plans to exit from China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), news agency Bloomberg reported. It is worth noting that Italy is one of the signatory countries in the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEE EC) memorandum of understanding signed on Saturday during the first day of the G20 Summit.
A separate report by Bloomberg from earlier this year said Rome intends to pull out of the initiative but Meloni was caught in a dilemma on how to deliver the message to Beijing while reducing the chances of a retaliation from Xi Jinping.
It is a sensitive issue for Italy because the Chinese ambassador to Italy earlier this year warned that there would be “negative consequences” for Italy if it withdrew from the agreement. She also plans to visit China in the coming months.
Moreover, the BRI investment pact between Beijing and Rome has also tested the Italy-US bilateral relationship.
The Bloomberg report said that Italy PM Meloni and Chinese Premier Li Qiang met on Saturday on the sidelines of the 2023 New Delhi G20 Summit where the former told China’s Li that Italy is planning to withdraw from the Belt and Road Initiative.
The Belt and Road Initiative is a pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping as the nation looks to expand its influence across the planet and bring Europe, West Asia, Africa and East Asia under its sphere of influence. However, there are instances where countries - like Pakistan and Sri Lanka, who are burdened with Chinese loans which they took to develop their infrastructure - have fallen into the so-called Chinese debt trap.
Italy, however, outlined that it looks to maintain friendly relations with Beijing, the Bloomberg report said. Italy signed up for the pact in 2019.
Meloni has been waiting for the opportune moment to pull out of the BRI deal amid rumblings from current and former ministers regarding the disadvantages the deal may have in store for Italy.
The deal aims to bolster infrastructure of middle and lower income nations but it has also pushed several nations into debt.
Meloni has been taking her time on deciding how to best broach the matter with China and let them know Rome’s decision to exit from the so-called infrastructure pact and Italy fears a trade retaliation due to its possible departure.