NEW DELHI: In a big setback to Xi Jinping, Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni on Sunday told Chinese premier
that her country has decided to exit the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The Italian PM communicated the intention to quit the project to her counterpart on the sidelines of the
summit in New Delhi even as Li made a last-ditch attempt to persuade her government to rethink.
The decision comes just weeks before China’s Xi hosts world leaders for the third Belt and Road forum in Beijing.
, which is seeking to minimise any backlash from the decision from Beijing, would as a replacement aim to revitalise a strategic partnership agreement with China, aimed at fostering economic cooperation, it first signed in 2004.
Italy was the only G7 nation to sign up to the BRI, a global trade and infrastructure plan modelled on the old Silk Road that linked imperial China and the West.
The Italians told the Chinese that their decision had not been dictated by the United States, the report added, comments echoed by similar reports in other Italian newspapers.
‘Didn’t meet expectations’
Earlier this month, Italy’s foreign minister Antonio Tajani had said that the BRI deal with China “failed to meet Italian expectations”.
Italian defence minister Guido Crosetto had recently called the European country’s decision to join the BRI an “improvised and atrocious act.”
PM Meloni herself has often said that the deal was a “big mistake” that she intends to correct.
The deal was due to be renewed automatically in March 2024.
The decision will come as a fresh blow for Xi, who is looking to revive the sagging infrastructure plan amid rising defaults and slowdown in new investments.
Italy, like several countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, had been grappling with growing trade deficit with China.
With BRI, Italy was looking to attract investments and expand exports’ access into China’s huge market.
It saw an opportunity to leverage its political weight to sign on to the BRI in hopes of beating out others for Chinese attention and investments.
But there was hardly any change in the trajectory of Italy-China economic ties.
Since Italy joined the BRI, its exports to China have increased from 14.5 billion euros to 18.5 billion euros, while Chinese exports to Italy have grown far more dramatically, from 33.5 billion euros to 50.9 billion euros.
As a result, its trade deficit with China has doubled over the span of three years, up to 2022.
Several other countries have been reconsidering their partnership with China with BRI failing to bring great dividends.
(With inputs from agencies)