Italy's government wants to get involved in the Chinese mega-project "New Silk Road" - fat deals beckon. But the warnings from Washington and Brussels are clearly visible.
Luigi Di Maio, the 5-star party’s frontman, vice-premier and Minister of Economic Development, has been to Beijing twice in recent months.
In addition to an agreement on Italian-Chinese cooperation in Africa, it was mainly about the participation of the Italians in the Chinese giant project "One Belt One Road", also called "New Silk Road".
The Chinese head of state Xi Jinping wants to invest 900 billion dollars in a network of roads, railways, ports and airports from Asia to Europe. It could also mean large orders for Italy.
It could well be useful for Italy, because the economy is lame, recession threatens and what grows, are above all the debts. There is only hope in the Far East: China promises jobs and investment for the Italians, cheap credit and, of course, better access to the huge sales market.
In Trieste there is already great anticipation: The port there is to become the mega-transit-point for China's deliveries to Europe. Genoa also sees unforeseen harbor opportunities.
That's why Di Maio installed a "Task Force China" last year, led by his undersecretary Michele Geraci. A graduate economist and electrical engineer, he has lived in China for a long time and is an ardent admirer of Beijing's "lifetime" elected ruler Xi Jinping. Geraci escorted his boss on the Far East voyages, of which he returned home with the resolution: "We want to become the first partner of China in Europe".
On March 22, when friend Xi will arrive in Italy, but not later than April, at the second Silk Road Summit in Beijing, the agreement will be signed for close cooperation on the largest economic project since the American Marshall Plan, which fueled Western Europe's post-World War II reconstruction become.
But now doubts are growing in Rome.
End of the Italo-American friendship
Twice, Lewis Eisenberg, US ambassador to Rome, warned Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte not to sign the agreement with China. The transatlantic friendship was at stake. China wants to buy an expansion of its power, in Asia, Africa but also in Europe. Italy should not help. That was not a fixed idea of Donald Trump. Even his predecessor, Barack Obama, had not brought the US into the Chinese-initiated multilateral financial project "Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)", which will finance the infrastructure project.
Garrett Marquis, in charge of US National Security affairs, threatened that Italy would endanger its "global reputation" with the Chinese Pact.
All of this was not without effect, because a government that spoils itself with the US does not last long in Italy. At least until the end of the US-China dispute over punitive tariffs and possible spying by Huawei phones, you do not want to sign the China Treaty. At least that's what Italian media reports say, so far there has not been an official statement. Especially since the Roman government coalition is also divided on this issue.
13 EU countries in pact with China
Not only in Washington, but also in Brussels at the EU – as well as in Berlin and Paris - there are concerns about the Asian lure. Ultimately, the Silk Road Initiative only benefited the highly subsidized Chinese companies in previous year warned 27 EU ambassadors in Beijing in a joint statement (only those from Hungary had not participated).
At the same time, not only Asian and African countries have gradually become involved. 13 EU countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Portugal, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Malta and the three Baltic States) also concluded individual investment agreements with Beijing.
These are all smaller countries, unlike the EU founding member Italy, the fourth largest economy of the international community and the eighth largest in the world. Their signature would have a completely different, above all political weight.
Of course, the Italians realize that the Chinese do not give away anything. They want to expand their economic power, in order to gain even more political influence globally. But if you urgently need money? And others have already taken national advantages from the Chinese special offer. Pakistan, for example, the biggest enemy of China's competitor India, has gotten generous investments on loan. Now they have about $ 50 billion in debt to the rulers in Beijing, so what?
Even countries like Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia are heavily indebted to the Chinese and thus dependent. In Portugal, Xi Jinping's investors have bought themselves into the largest energy supplier and the largest insurance company.
The descendants of Mao Zedong have also made good political investments in Hungary and Greece: If the EU wants to protest once again against human rights violations or other evils in China, Greeks or Hungarians have recently vetoed them.