(Reuters) – Italy has told China that it is quitting the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), two government sources told Reuters on Wednesday, ending months of doubt over Rome’s future in Beijing’s ambitious infrastructure project.
Italy signed a preliminary accord with China in March 2019 that made it the only Group of Seven (G7) country to join the BRI project, which was launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.
The then Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, hoped the deal would boost Italy’s underperforming economy, but over the past four years it has produced little benefit.
Critics had voiced concern it would enable China to gain control of sensitive technologies and infrastructure and Italy has since taken a number of steps to veto takeovers or limit the sway of Chinese companies over their Italian counterparts.
The two countries noted that they shared a common history, with Italy serving as the traditional landing place for the maritime section of the ancient Silk Route trading route linking Asia and western Europe.
China and Italy committed to working together on strengthening their political relations and commercial ties, and promoting regional peace.
PLANNED AREAS OF COOPERATION
– Transport, logistics and infrastructure: Italy and China said they would work on projects such as roads, railways, bridges, civil aviation, ports, energy and telecommunications.
– In the energy sector, State Grid Corporation of China has since 2014 owned a 35% stake in CDP Reti, a holding company that owns roughly a third of Italian power and gas grid operators Terna and Snam.
– Removing obstacles to commerce and investment, promoting a partnership between their respective financial institutions.
– Connectivity between people, developing a twinning network between cities and encouraging cultural, science, tourism and education exchanges.
– Environmental cooperation, pursuing sustainable and ecological development.
($1 = 0.9284 euros)
(Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Toby Chopra)