Sitting in a colosseum-shaped terrace overlooking the Italian Pavilion at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, Luigi Di Maio sent out a series of messages.
“We will make an evaluation of our trade relations with China and of our exports in March 2020, one year after the signing of the memorandum of understanding on the Silk Road”. And again: «The agreement signed in Rome with Xi Jinping has boosted our bilateral relations and it has also led to the opening of credit lines, the Silk Road is worth more than the investments themselves and the trade and, here in Shanghai I have clearly told the Chinese that we expect much more and that our two Countries have never been so close ”.
Well, what about our relations with the American superpower?
Di Maio appears to be relaxed: “I believe that President Trump, who is a businessman, has always understood the importance we attach to exports and to foreign trade; we need to look to the East; and the United States have never waged an attack on the Silk Road; the only concern of the Americans, and also ours, is the 5G” (Huawei, ed). The Foreign Minister claims that Italy has introduced the most restrictive legislation on fifth generation telecommunications networks in Europe and “now we hope that the other European countries will follow our lead as far as security rules are concerned”.
In Shanghai, the leader of the 5-Star Movement reiterated that Italy’s participation in Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative gives us the opportunity to promote all Made-in-Italy products. The Silk Road initiative is a huge project of infrastructural facilities connecting Asia to Europe, and it also involves Africa. It means construction sites for hundreds of billions of euros that are required to build railway lines, highways, power plants, ports and airports. There had been discussions for collaboration between Italian and Chinese companies in Third Countries and investments by Beijing in Italian ports, but, after the signing of the memorandum in March in Rome, these plans seem to have been set aside because now there is only talk about exports, especially agribusiness.
Di Maio replies: «In Rome we convened an Italy-China task force to involve our infrastructure companies; as regards Third Countries in which to operate we are interested in Africa where there are projects that have been started by the Chinese who expect our contribution in terms of Italian style and Italian quality standards ».
Then came an announcement: «The agreement between Porto di Trieste and CCCC, a Chinese construction giant, has been signed. This means that Beijing is interested in investing in our Country for the Maritime Silk Road, and they also seem to be interested in Taranto. And our goal is to constantly step up our exports and strengthen our industries “. Ettore Sequi, who was ambassador in Beijing for four years and is now head of cabinet at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, points out: “The agreement with Trieste serves to open the way for Italian products to China”.
Zeno D’Agostino, president of the Trieste Port Authority, says to the daily Il Corriere: “We are in phase two under the March agreement. The Chinese have pledged to invest in two logistics platforms in the Shanghai and Guangdong area that are connected with Trieste to promote the export of Italian products. The issue is not who exercises control over our port, which remains Italian, we are not interested in Chinese money, we are not as desperate as the Greeks in Piraeus, we want to bring value to our territory by creating development and growth opportunities for the city and for Italian export companies”.
In conclusion, according to the Foreign Minister: «The economic agenda is of central importance in the relations between Rome and Beijing because China is our fifth commercial partner and, for Italy’s industry China is a market of critical importance». Indeed, China is a market of 1.4 billion consumers and it is a must for European countries (and also for the United States) and this is Xi’s ace in the poker game of globalization. Di Maio wants to sit at the poker table but in order to assess the economic benefits and the political costs of the operation he has postponed his evaluation of the situation to 2020. It won’t take long to see his cards.