MILAN, May 28 (Reuters) – Good relations with China are possible even without being part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) deal, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said in an interview published on Sunday, as her government weighs abandoning the project.
Italy is the only major Western country to have joined China’s BRI scheme, which envisions rebuilding the old Silk Road to connect China with Asia, Europe and beyond with large infrastructure spending.
In an interview with Il Messaggero daily, Meloni said it was too early to anticipate the outcome of Italy’s decision on whether to remain part of the project, which it signed up to in 2019, drawing criticism from Washington and Brussels.
“Our assessment is very delicate and touches upon many interests,” said Meloni. The pact expires in March 2024 and will be automatically renewed unless either side informs the other that they are pulling out, giving at least three months’ notice.
In an interview with Reuters last year, before she won power in a September election, Meloni made clear she disapproved of the 2019 move, saying she had “no political will … to favour Chinese expansion into Italy or Europe”.
Meloni noted that while Italy was the only one of the Group of Seven (G7) rich democracies to have signed the Belt and Road memorandum, it was not the European and Western country with the strongest economic and trade ties with China.
“This means it is possible to have good relations, also in important areas, with Beijing, without necessarily these being part of an overall strategic design,” she said.
Earlier this month a senior Italian government official told Reuters Italy was highly unlikely to renew the Belt and Road deal.
A first test of the right wing government’s attitude towards China looms as Rome vets a shareholder pact at tyre maker Pirelli’s, whose top investor is China’s Sinochem.
China is among the biggest markets for most countries in the G7 group, particularly for export-reliant economies such as Japan and Germany.
At a summit last weekend, G7 leaders pledged to “de-risk” without “decoupling” from China, an approach that reflected European and Japanese concerns about pushing Beijing too hard, officials and experts said.