Despite pressure from the United States, Italy did not hesitate to sign a memorandum of understanding with China on March 23 to jointly promote the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Italy officially became the first G7 country to join the initiative.
There is no doubt that this is the most significant breakthrough in China’s diplomacy so far in 2019.
Over the past five years since the BRI was put forward, the vast majority of the countries that have joined the initiative are developing countries. As the world’s most developed and powerful group of Western countries, G7 is America’s closest ally. The G7 has always looked on the initiative coldly and even made some sneering remarks. Behind it is American pressure.
According to media reports, when Italy revealed that it would formally support the BRI, the U.S. was “angry” and even a little “furious.”
Garrett Marquis, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, immediately said that this move will greatly damage Italy’s international image.
However, according to Xinhua News Agency, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said during talks with visiting Chinese leaders: “Italy has a special geographical advantage in promoting connectivity. We are glad to seize the historical opportunity and participate in the Belt and Road Initiative. We firmly believe that this will help fully tap the potential of Sino-Italian cooperation. I look forward to attending the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.”
This is undoubtedly a milestone in the history of the BRI. Apart from attracting many developing countries, it is now gaining popularity among Western developed countries.
If a comparison must be drawn, this major breakthrough in the BRI is similar to the British accession to the AIIB in the spring of 2015.
The establishment of the AIIB has obviously freed the world from the complete control of the international financial order by the West. At that time, the Obama administration exerted strong pressure on Britain, France, Germany, Australia, South Korea and other countries to prevent these allies from building closer ties with China.
South Korea once expressed its willingness to join the AIIB, but under pressure from the United States, it was then forced to be quiet about this.
But at this critical moment, the U.S. suddenly discovered that Britain, a close ally of the U.S., has openly applied to join the AIIB.
The Obama administration was outraged and publicly accused Britain of “constant accommodation” of China. However, Britain was unmoved. George Osborne, then British chancellor of the exchequer, explained that this was in the national interest of Britain. He was personally pleased that Britain had become the first founding member of the AIIB among developed countries.
As the first domino fell, countries around the world started to join the AIIB. Even the Philippines, which was in an escalated tension with China at that time, joined the AIIB after much hesitation.
From the perspective of Italy and Britain, cooperation with China is in their own national interests.
The world is facing an unprecedented change never seen in the past hundred years. It is not in Europe’s best interest to take sides. Therefore, Britain actively joined the AIIB while Italy insists on joining the BRI.
For China, behind this diplomatic breakthrough lies a wise strategy and the resourcefulness of the leadership.
This kind of whirlwind visit has only previously been made to neighbouring countries: Russia, South Korea, etc. China’s first whirlwind visit to a non-neighbouring country was made to Britain, which was met with special respect. The importance attached to the bilateral relations has pushed Sino-British relations to a higher level.
This trip to the three European countries is the first visit by China’s president in 2019. As the first country to be visited, Italy showed special attention and attached great importance to the visit, resulting in Italy signing the memorandum of understanding to join the BRI.
Looking back on the past few years, it should be said that the AIIB and the BRI are very wise diplomatic strategies, as they demonstrate China’s openness and have successfully wooed more friends. This kind of high-level strategic design is leading to significant and profound changes in the geopolitical landscape of the Eurasian continent and beyond.