Brussels/Rome/Beijing: “China has discovered it can pick off different EU members, establish good relations with them and stop the EU having a China policy,” Robert Cooper, an EU foreign policy adviser alleged that China was trying to create a divide among the European countries. Chinese President Xi Jinping is currently on a visit to Europe and has succeeded in getting Italy to sign the agreement for ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) initiative. Furthermore, Italy’s signing of the contract under the OBOR project, despite the European Union being strongly opposed to it only endorses the claims of the European analysts.
On Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the OBOR initiative. Italy is a member of the Group of Seven (G7), the group of seven major industrialised economies of the world. Therefore, Italy becomes the first of the G7 to join the ambitious Chinese initiative. At a time when the major economies such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and India are opposing the Chinese OBOR initiative, Italy’s approval becomes exceptionally crucial for President Jinping.
While signing the MoU for the initiative, Italy also opened up four of its ports to China which include the ports of Trieste and Genoa. Additionally, the Chinese markets were to be reportedly opened up for the leading Italian companies. As per Italian sources, agreements for nearly €2.5 billion were signed in the energy, fuel, steel sectors. At the end of last year, the Italian economy was hit by recession and efforts are ongoing to revive the economy. Italy has claimed that given the current situation, the new agreements with China would provide an impetus to its economy.
Although, Italy has initiated efforts to restore its economy with the signing of the OBOR initiative with China, the rest of the European countries and the United States have expressed strong displeasure over the decision. The agreement would not benefit the Italian people but instead would tarnish Italy’s international image, the United States had warned. Whereas, the European Commission reminded Italy of the Chinese Debt Trap. Even the French President warned Italy, saying that China was taking advantage of the discord in the European Union.
The European analysts have asserted that China was trying to pit the European countries against each other. Teresa Coratella from the European Council on Foreign Relations targeted China saying, ‘I think that China would definitely prefer to have 27 different policies instead of one united one because this would leave more space for manoeuvring and for pushing for its own primary interests. China is pushing the EU countries to create disputes between its member nations, to serve its own strategic interests. The final objective is to go back to China with the best outcome that one could get.’
Even in the past, China had taken the initiative to form independent groups of the Balkan countries along with nations from central and eastern Europe and develop relations with them. Nevertheless, the EU had raised objections to China’s actions. Despite that China has continued with its policy and reports have surfaced of the Chinese Premier visiting Europe next month to hold independent talks with the groups.