People with short memory and idiosyncratic agenda take Italy’s regal welcome to Xi during his visit Mar 21-23, and Rome’s acceptance to participate in China’s Belt and Road project, as a seminal event marking an irreparable breach of transatlantic union and solidarity.
That is mean nonsense. Similar breaches are legion.
What should one say, for example, of the beaming Chinese Premier Li Keqiang standing next to Chancellor Angela Merkel in May 2013 to celebrate a China-Germany “dream team,” as he was getting the technology for intelligent manufacturing to replace his smokestack factories?
That was nearly six years before Italy took up the promises of future business deals with China.
During that time, Germany kept selling to China its top technologies and companies, including one of its leading suppliers of robotics and system manufacturing. In the process, German exports to China over the last five years came to a total of 380.9 billion euro.
And well before China began talking to Italy about using the port of Trieste, Greece sold in April 2016 a controlling 67 percent stake to China in the port of Piraeus.
China’s cooperation with Central and East European countries — the 16+1 format — has been expanding rapidly since 2012 in areas of large infrastructure projects and investments in industrial machinery, chemical industries, energy and telecoms. The East Europeans have in large part embraced those new development opportunities because they found no takers among their EU partners.
All those examples are just fragments of a vast China-EU trade. According to the China Railway Corporation, freight trains, running along the Belt and Road itineraries, are now connecting 59 cities in China to 49 cities in 15 European countries. Last year, 6,363 freight train trips were made between China and Europe, a 73 percent increase from 2017.
In view of all that, how fair and reasonable is it to accuse Italy of breaking the EU ranks on China trade?
And it is equally wrong to blame China of driving a wedge among the EU countries. China is just diligently and smartly pursuing its business interests. Last year, China was the EU’s second-largest (after the U.S.) trade partner, with a surplus of 184 billion euro on a bilateral goods trade of 603.9 billion euro.