Journalist Alexandra Ma writes about the most recent addition to China's Belt Road Initiative. Italy recently joined the massive trade project which has the goal of connecting Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas through Chinese sponsored infrastructure and investment. The decision of Italy to join is important in the development of the Belt Road Initiative because their economy is the eighth-largest in the world by nominal GDP. Italy is by far the largest nation to join so far. It is important to note that the agreement is non-binding and there are no ramifications for either for China or Italy if they decide to withdraw. Concern among other nations, mainly U.S. and India, continues to increase because of their concern over Chinese military and political ambitions. China has been accused of using the Belt Road Initiative to offer high interest rate loans to countries who have difficulty paying the loans back.
Italy's decision to join is important to IPE because of the divide that it has revealed among domestic institutions within the country. The decision helped expose sharp divisions among the Northern League and Five Star Movement. The Five Star Movement currently has a majority and pushed for the inclusion of Italy in the Belt Road Initiative. The League on the other hand opposes the decision because of fears concerning foreign influence endangering Italian national security.
The EU is another institution the deal has effected. The EU has been pushing for a bilateral trade agreement with Beijing instead of the member nations creating relationships on their own. Italy's decision weakens the perceived institutional effectiveness of the EU.
Italy's decision to join the Belt Road Initiative is a hallmark achievement for China, but raises concerns for other countries such as India and the U.S. Italy signed a memorandum of understanding with China to take part, but the agreement is non-binding. It will be interesting to see new developments within Italy since they now face pressure from opposing countries, domestic institutions within their own country, and the EU.