Italy risks infuriating European Union partners by considering borrowing from China’s controversial foreign investment programme, which is loathed by some of the bloc’s most influential leaders.
Italy is said to be on the verge of becoming the first G7 country to endorse Beijing’s
“Belt and Road” investment programme.
The Asian Infrastructure Investment bank’s plan to put money into global transport, logistics and infrastructure projects has been largely resisted by Brussels and Washington.
Rome’s coalition government made up of League and the Five Star Movement will attempt to allay international fears that the Belt and Road project poses a security threat. According to a working document, Rome and Beijing would
“work together with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank”.
The two countries will “explore all opportunities for co-operation” in Italy and other “third countries”. The Italian government now intends to sign a so-called “memorandum of understanding” when Chinese president Xi Jinping visits Rome on March 22.
There are growing concerns across Europe about the differing approaches from EU member states to accepting Chinese investment.
Manlio di Stefano, Five Star’s undersecretary of state for foreign affairs, said:
“We have carefully checked everything and we have set Europe and Italy-oriented parameters, reaching a total agreement at all levels of government”.
“There will be the signing of the main agreement, plus a series of other satellite agreements, about 20, of various kinds.”
He added the planned deal is “very important for Italy because it will allow our companies to be key players in the Belt and Road Initiative plan, to have more leverage in the Chinese market, both to attract investments and to enter that market as protagonists.”
According to the draft document, Rome and Beijing would agree to lift any obstacles to trade and investment. It is understood that the issue will be raised at a meeting of EU foreign ministers, with a number preparing to present a “tough approach” to Chinese investment in Europe.
One of the main concerns raised will be the possibility of Chinese state-led industrial and military espionage on the Continent.
“There is concern amongst EU partners about Belt and Road,” said a Brussels source.
“There is a dark side to the Chinese outreach and the EU has to have some sort of counter strategies and it is thinking about that.”
France and Germany both expressed outrage when a multibillion-euro rail merger between Siemens and Alstom was turned down by the European Commission.
The influential governments said that failing to create so-called “European champions” would open the door for state-back Chinese firms to do more business on the Continent.