The world is continuing to witness the negative side effects of President Trump’s short-sided “America First” National Security Strategy. From pulling out of the Transpacific Partnership to publicly criticizing the very multi-lateral institutions—including the United Nations, NAFTA, and the WTO—that have held the world in check for decades, President Trump has created a void in world leadership that China is stepping into. Most recently, Italy has mirrored Trump with an “Italy first” by officially joining China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy stated that the agreement will “build a better relationship” between China and Italy. It is no surprise that Luigi Di Maio, extreme populist and leader of the Five Star Movement, strongly supported the deal and pushed for increased China-Italy cooperation.
While Jason Horowitz’s NYT article “Defying Allies, Italy Signs On to New Silk Road With China” presents concerns for China to use Italy as a Trojan horse to infiltrate Europe, my bigger concern is the message this sets for the developing countries of the world that lack the robust and stable economy of Italy and strong, developed powers. As the world has witnessed in sub-Saharan Africa and South America, Chinese multinational corporations (MNCs) do not often “play by the rules” and create dependence on Chinese goods. As Chinese MNCs continue to expand into these countries, they coerce the government into Chinese terms that destroy the host nation's economy in the long run and destroy local business. To those developing countries with China either already inside or at their doorstep, Italy ignoring warnings of its European and American allies and joining China’s Silk Road signals that these developing countries can trust China. If the leaders of the free world are doing it, why shouldn’t they? President Trump and the greater United States should see Italy’s decision not as a random act, but as a logical step down a stairwell with a frightening end.