Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto said that his nation plans to formally exit the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the near future.
According to Politico, Crosetto said in an interview that “the issue today is: how to walk back [from the BRI] without damaging relations,” with Crosetto further acknowledging that while Italy still considers China “a partner,” it is also “true that China is a competitor.”
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni had previously hinted at departing from the BRI, with Crosetto’s comments being the first official confirmation that such plans are indeed underway.
“The choice to join the Silk Road was an improvised and wicked act, made by the government of Giuseppe Conte, which led to a double negative result,” Crosetto continued. “We exported a load of oranges to China, they tripled exports to Italy in three years.”
Italy first joined the BRI, a controversial global infrastructure program widely seen as an effort to spread Chinese influence, in 2019. As the first member of the G7 to join, many of Italy’s allies were shocked by the move. Despite the new partnership, Italy’s trade deficit with China did not decrease, with Chinese exports to Italy increasing 51 percent from 2019 to 2022. At the same time, Chinese imports from Italy rose by about 26 percent during the same time frame.
Italy’s departure from the BRI would mark the latest significant policy change by Meloni’s government, a right-wing nationalist and populist coalition that was first elected last September. Meloni, who is the first female prime minister in Italian history, has implemented numerous conservative policies since taking office, including policies that are pro-family and strict on immigration.