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Italy will register for China's belt and road project – Quartz

During tomorrow's Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Italy (March 21), the eurozone's third largest economy is expected to formally support the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China's Global Pressure to Expand Its Political and Economic Impact Abroad

The move that alerts European allies and the United States bears the stamp of a relative newcomer to Italian politics: Michele Geraci.

Xi's visit to Italy, followed by stays in Monaco and France (Paywall)), comes after discussions in Europe, where China has been called a "systemic rival", and in the midst of US efforts, Chinese companies to participate in the Introduction of 5G Telecom by allies to ban network security concerns.

Italy would do so to be the first BRI member of the G7, a group of democratically governed advanced economies that has long been shaping global politics. The other members include France, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and Japan. Acknowledgment for BRI, a reinvention of the Silk Road's historical trade routes, launched by China in 2013, may be a sign that a country is breaking with traditional allies and colliding with China over politically-charged issues. The initiative involves more than 60 countries.

The US publicly criticized the Italian move.

Behind Italy's ambitions to deepen relations with China, Geraci is one of the world's growing concerns over China's investment, the country's most passionate admirers in the Italian government. Geraci, now Secretary of State for Economic Development of Italy, lived in China for more than a decade, where he taught finance. He agreed with the country's policies in all areas, from China's rigorous controls (link in Italian), to internal migration, to its security apparatus investment strategy on the African continent.

Geraci has presented the agreement to be signed during Xi's visit to both boost Italian exports and "align China with international standards," according to a CNBC interview uploaded by Geraci on YouTube. He said that the agreement would give the Italian companies "the choice but no obligation" to work on overseas projects and downplay concerns from other European countries and from his own government.

The decision was accompanied by a relative lack of clarity about what exactly that meant for the country and prompted the Italian press to complain about further information about the deal. The Italian news sites have leaked two different (Italian-language) versions of the document, both of which are rather vague.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who will attend the Belt and Road Summit in Beijing next month, has done so. The agreement (link in Italian) will give Italian companies a chance to expand into China and will not include telecommunications technology. While the Ministry of Economy also insists that telecommunications is not part of the agreement, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Guglielmo Picchi, has expressed doubts that Italy has signed the initiative, saying that the document also covers "Telecommunications, Interoperability and Infrastructures ". "

The controversial communications are characteristic of the fragmented Italian government, which consists of a coalition between the populist Five Star Movement and the far-right, anti-European Union League.

Reuters Graphics

The Silk Road 19659013] Arriving from the Sicilian city of Palermo, Geri, whom Xi will visit on this trip, endeavored to attract greater investment from China to the Italian ports, particularly in Genoa, Palermo, and Trieste. "All these ports have the advantage of being closest to Africa," Geraci told the New York Times ("Paywall"), "without being in Africa."

A detailed profile (link in Italian) in Italian newspaper Il Foglio Geraci is also described as having asked all his ministry staff to download WeChat, the popular Chinese instant messaging app (and everything else), which represents China's high-tech innovation as well as the monitoring of online communication. According to the same article, at least once he pretended to miss a plane to Korea and Japan on a ministerial trip to spend more time in China.

Geraci did not respond to requests from Quartz

] In response to the US campaign for Huawei, Geraci said the national security debate should refer to whether foreign telecoms providers should be allowed and not "yes or no" Huawei (paywall) to say. On its personal website, the shipments deal with the delivery of an Italian cruise ship for Chinese travelers, while videos explain how Italy can attract Chinese investment and avoid predatory takeovers.

Xi's visit comes when Italy entered a recession in the latter part of the year in 2018, battling Europe for an extravagant budget. Foreign investment from China could help stimulate the economy, hopes to finance and update the aging infrastructure.

Receiving Italian approval, China is successfully pursuing its strategy of doing business with individual countries within the EU. This has made the block less effective in presenting itself to Beijing with one voice.

For the first time in 2017, the EU failed to present a statement on China's human rights register before the UN Human Rights Council. after Greece – Europe's largest recipient of Chinese investment and credit – blocked it. This happened shortly after China's Cosco Shipping, a state owned company and one of the largest shipping companies in the world, had acquired 51% of the Greek port of Piraeus, the largest Greek port. Similar concerns have arisen from Viktor Orban's Hungary and other smaller European nations.

Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, chairman of the Five Star Movement, rejected the idea that the agreement was an important success for China's overseas expansion or had any impact next to the commercial one. He even explained (link in Italian) that the signing of the BRI agreement "wins the Made in Italy brand". Both Di Maio, who is also Minister for Economic Development, and Geraci have noted that Italy has lagged behind in exports to China and should get to know Germany, Britain and France – none of which is a signatory to the BRI.

Italy's decision, however, falls against other European countries in the context of the weakening Chinese economy and a decline in Chinese investment in the United States and in the United States. The postponement of political commitments that the BRI project could bring to Italy may not even reap the economic benefits its government so eagerly seeks.

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