Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto has criticized the country’s decision to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2019. In an interview with the Corriere della Sera newspaper, Crosetto called the decision “an improvised and atrocious act” that has not brought any benefits to Italy.
Crosetto said that the BRI has instead led to a “debt trap” for Italy, as China has provided loans for infrastructure projects that have not been profitable. He also said that the BRI has not boosted Italian exports to China, as China’s exports to Italy have increased much more than Italian exports to China.
Crosetto’s comments come at a time when Italy is under increasing pressure from the United States and the European Union to distance itself from China. The US and EU have both expressed concerns about the BRI, which they see as a way for China to expand its economic and political influence around the world.
It is unclear whether Italy will actually take steps to leave the BRI. However, Crosetto’s comments suggest that the Italian government is at least considering the possibility.
“The issue today is: how to walk back (from the BRI) without damaging relations (with Beijing),” Crosetto said. “Because it is true that China is a competitor, but it is also a partner.”
The BRI is a vast infrastructure project that aims to connect China to Europe and Africa through a network of roads, railways, ports, and other infrastructure. The initiative has been praised by some for its potential to boost economic growth and connectivity. However, it has also been criticized for its environmental impact and for the potential for China to use it to exert its influence over other countries.
Italy’s decision to join the BRI was made in 2019 by the then-Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. The decision was controversial, with some critics arguing that it would make Italy too dependent on China.
Crosetto’s comments are the latest in a series of criticisms of the BRI by Italian officials. In April, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said that the BRI was “not a good deal for Italy” and that the country should “review its participation” in the initiative.
It remains to be seen whether Italy will actually leave the BRI. However, Crosetto’s comments suggest that the Italian government is at least considering the possibility.