Skip to main content

Italy’s critics are jealous of its China deal, says Rome’s lead negotiator


US should worry about its own debts to China rather than warn Italy about falling into a debt trap, Michele Geraci saysCriticism made Italy ‘even more alert’ about Beijing – but he predicts more European nations will soon join it in embracing the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’

Topic |  China-EU relations

Sarah Zheng  

Liu Zhen  

Published: 12:11pm, 27 Mar, 2019

Italy has got an edge over other European nations by signing up first to China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” and it may be making some of them “jealous”, the Italian politician who pushed for his country’s involvement said on Tuesday.

Michele Geraci, undersecretary of state at the Italian Ministry of Economic Development, said at least two other European countries were expected to follow Italy, which last week became the first G7 nation to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the transcontinental infrastructure initiative with China.

“All the other countries will follow Italy and sign an MOU, and I can give you two names, but I won’t – they are in the pipeline,” Geraci said at the Boao Forum for Asia in China’s southern Hainan province. “In reality, all European countries want to be part of the belt and road.”

Italy agreed to join the initiative while it hosted a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, despite warnings by the United States and some European countries that it risked being a debt trap with questionable infrastructure project standards. Washington has branded the belt and road scheme a “vanity project”.

Genoa, pictured, is Italy's biggest seaport. China Communications Construction has signed management deals for the ports of Genoa and Trieste. Photo: Shutterstock


“When we were criticised – me personally, also – for taking care of all of this over the last few months, it’s because we … want to lead, and leading means doing things first,” Geraci said.

The MOU highlighted the signing of 29 China-Italy cooperation agreements. It came on the heels of the European Union’s unveiling of a 10-point plan aimed at rebalancing the bloc’s Beijing policy and ahead of the EU-China summit to be held in Brussels on April 9.


Get updates direct to your inbox


By registering for these newsletters you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy

Read more

The Sinophile driving Italy’s hopes of a New Silk Road deal with China

Read more

Growing EU doubts over China loom large over Xi’s visit to France

Read more

Is Italy willing to defy the US and EU to join the belt and road?

Read more

The ups and downs of China’s belt and road, six years in

Geraci, who led Italy’s negotiations on the MOU, told the South China Morning Post on the Boao Forum’s sidelines that the signing reflected the government’s embrace of an “Italy first” strategy, despite concerns about the move expressed broadly and to Geraci personally by the US and EU.

“The US was not very happy” with Italy’s move, Geraci said. Rome, he added, had listened to the EU and US and cooperated where it could, but ultimately made its own decisions.

“We did what we think is in the interest of our country,” the Italian trade and investment tsar said.

Geraci said signing up would spur economic growth in a country that slipped into a recession last year at time when the other euro-zone economies are all expanding.

Italy’s populist government is shouldering a staggering amount of debt – around 132.1 per cent of its GDP – which the EU has warned poses a risk to other economies in the region.

Italy’s move to join New Silk Road may see EU tighten stance on China

In particular, Italy – which is battling big companies from Germany and other nations – hoped to gain better access to China’s markets for its small and medium enterprises, he said.

He suggested the outcry from other European nations against Italy joining the belt and road plan could have been tied to the competition for business with China – and the perceived setback Italy’s MOU handed its rivals.

European leaders indicated they remained open to joining Beijing’s initiative after a meeting in Paris between China President Xi Jinping (right), German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) and other European leaders. Photo: EPA-EFE


“If Italy wants to be the terminal of China’s Silk Road, of course that affects Hamburg, Rotterdam, Marseilles,” Geraci said, listing major European port cities. China has become a big player in the port business as it builds its new Maritime Silk Road, connecting China to Europe via Southeast Asia and the Arabian peninsula.

“It’s a competition, so I understand their jealousy.”

Despite growing scepticism about the belt and road plan, European leaders on Tuesday indicated they remained open to joining Beijing’s initiative.

Editorial: Belt and road has more pros than cons

“We as Europeans want to play an active part [in the belt and road plan] and that must lead to a certain reciprocity and we are still wrangling over that a bit,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after a meeting in Paris with Xi, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. “We are seeing the project as a good visualisation of interaction, interrelation and interdependence.”

Geraci said the outside criticism of Italy’s pending deal with Beijing helped make Rome “even more alert” about signing the MOU.

Despite criticism, Beijing has been steadily adding partners for its “Belt and Road Initiative”, with a vast network of ports, bridges and power plants linking China to Europe and beyond. Photo: AP


Italy, he said, preferred China making greenfield investments in Italy to it taking over Italian companies through mergers and acquisitions.

Rather than warning about the risks of Italy falling into a debt trap, Geraci suggested Washington should worry about China’s status as the largest foreign holder of US debt, with US$1.13 trillion in US Treasury bills, notes and bonds.

“The US should worry about having debt in Chinese hands,” he said. “They are in a situation where they need to be concerned, that’s why maybe they worry.”

By the same token, Geraci said, European countries should be wary of Chinese enterprises that have held substantial stakes in major European companies.

“We are very aware – we don’t need the European Union to tell us [about the risks of getting too indebted to China],” he said.

Opinion: Europe shouldn’t naively fall for US hype against China

“We’re not Greece, we’re Italy … We are a US$1.7 trillion economy. How can we fall into a debt trap? It happens in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, maybe Pakistan … but it cannot happen in Italy.”

While critics have warned that Italy’s move will compromise Europe’s united front against China, Geraci insisted there were no divisions in the bloc.

Geraci said Italy could work with China on its plan to develop its space technology. A Long March-3B carrier rocket is shown during its launch in southwest China's Sichuan province in November. Photo: Xinhua


“Little by little, more countries will sign. Europe is united,” said Geraci, a fluent Chinese speaker who taught in China for about a decade.

“They will be encouraged when they see this is positive and there is no risk. The Silk Road is already there. It’s in Germany with the train, and the Chinese have invested in many ports and companies, so what is it that divides us?” he said referring to a new freight train service from China’s Hebei province to Duisburg in Germany.

Geraci also said Italy wanted to cooperate with China on its “Made in China 2025” (MIC2025) programme, a state-led plan to develop hi-tech sectors. Italy, he said, was “almost best of the world” in all 10 key sectors under the scheme, including green energy, space and artificial intelligence.

Opinion: The ups and downs of China’s belt and road

MIC2025 became a flashpoint in the US-China trade war as the administration of US President Donald Trump portrayed it as posing a potential security threat to the US. Beijing has since toned down promotion and discussion of the programme.

But Geraci suggested that China and Italy could work together to bring MIC2025 to fruition in regions such as Africa and the Middle East.

“We can be a competitor with China but we also can cooperate because China has the size, and we have the know-how and quality,” he said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Critics are jealous of our deal, says top Italian negotiator


Popular posts from this blog

SSG Commando Muddassir Iqbal of Pakistan Army

“ Commando Muddassir Iqbal was part of the team who conducted Army Public School operation on 16 December 2014. In this video he reveals that he along with other commandos was ordered to kill the innocent children inside school, when asked why should they kill children after killing all the terrorist he was told that it would be a chance to defame Taliban and get nation on the side. He and all other commandos killed children and later Taliban was blamed. Muddassir Iqbal has deserted the military and now he is  with mujahedeen somewhere in AF PAK border area” For authenticity of  this tape journalists can easy reach to his home town to interview his family members or   ISPR as he reveals his army service number” Asalam o Alaikum: My name is Muddassir Iqbal. My father’s name is Naimat Ali. I belong to Sialkot divison (Punjab province), my village is Shamsher Poor and district, tehsil and post office  Narowal. Unfortunately I was working in Pakistan army. I feel embarrassed to tell yo

CPEC Jobs in Pakistan, salary details

JOBS...نوکریاں چائنہ کمپنی میں Please help the deserving persons... Salary: Salary package in China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in these 300,000 jobs shall be on daily wages. The details of the daily wages are as follows; Welder: Rs. 1,700 daily Heavy Duty Driver: Rs. 1,700 daily Mason: Rs. 1,500 daily Helper: Rs. 850 daily Electrician: Rs. 1,700 daily Surveyor: Rs. 2,500 daily Security Guard: Rs. 1,600 daily Bulldozer operator: Rs. 2,200 daily Concrete mixer machine operator: Rs. 2,000 daily Roller operator: Rs. 2,000 daily Steel fixer: Rs. 2,200 daily Iron Shuttering fixer: Rs. 1,800 daily Account clerk: Rs. 2,200 daily Carpenter: Rs. 1,700 daily Light duty driver: Rs. 1,700 daily Labour: Rs. 900 daily Para Engine mechanic: Rs. 1,700 daily Pipe fitter: Rs. 1,700 daily Storekeeper: Rs. 1,700 daily Office boy: Rs. 1,200 daily Excavator operator: Rs. 2,200 daily Shovel operator: Rs. 2,200 daily Computer operator: Rs. 2,200 daily Security Supervisor: Rs.

A ‘European Silk Road’

publication_icon Philipp Heimberger ,  Mario Holzner and Artem Kochnev wiiw Research Report No. 430, August 2018  43 pages including 10 Tables and 17 Figures FREE DOWNLOAD The German version can be found  here . In this study we argue for a ‘Big Push’ in infrastructure investments in greater Europe. We propose the building of a European Silk Road, which connects the industrial centres in the west with the populous, but less developed regions in the east of the continent and thereby is meant to generate more growth and employment in the short term as well as in the medium and long term. After its completion, the European Silk Road would extend overland around 11,000 kilometres on a northern route from Lisbon to Uralsk on the Russian-Kazakh border and on a southern route from Milan to Volgograd and Baku. Central parts are the route from Lyon to Moscow in the north and from Milan to Constanţa in the south. The southern route would link Central Europe with the Black Sea area and