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Πέμπτη, 18 Απριλίου, 2024

Snubbed by Rome, Beijing now trying to push BRI in Italy again through the backdoor

Περισσότερα Νέα

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China is grappling with challenges such as a progressive slowdown in growth rates, a low fertility index, a weak currency on a global level, and the indebted real estate sector in the world.  However, the weakening of China’s economy can potentially make its communist regime more desperate, consequently increasing its level of danger.  This was the conclusion of a conference at the Italian Senate on March 6, 2024, on the subject “Italy, Europe and China: Academic influences and Economic Imbalances.”

On December 6, 2023, the Italian government exited from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China; announcing formally that Rome would not renew the Memorandum of Understanding of 2019 regarding its formal participation in the BRI.

Even then, Beijing refuses to relent. It continues its propaganda efforts to influence the people of Italy, alongside its long-term attempts to control Italian infrastructure and push the Chinese agenda into Italian society and politics.  Italy, once a prized catch in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) network as a member of the G-7 group of affluent countries, has now severed ties, prompting Beijing to engage in damage control measures.

The conference debated on two major issues: China’s attempt at infiltrating Italian research and academia and the focus of China’s on Italian infrastructure, especially ports and other key infrastructure assets spread over the country.  Senator Giulio Terzi di Sant ‘Agata, during the conference inauguration, highlighted the growing concern among security agencies in Italy regarding China’s activities in recent years.  He emphasized that China’s efforts to expand its presence in a global scale have repeatedly captured attention, prompting increased scrutiny.

China has sought to extend its influence and agenda in Italy through the dissemination of fake news and propaganda, as well as through efforts to control Italian infrastructure.  Francesco Galietti, Founder and CEO of Policy Sonar, a Rome-based political risk consultancy, highlighted this at the conference, noting that Chinese companies have acquired shares in Italy’s gas and electricity distribution companies, making it exceedingly difficult to disentangle their influence.

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Italian journalist Giulia Pomphili revealed that China currently operates 12 Confucius Institutes in Italy, with Chinese language teachers employed in middle schools, all funded by the Chinese government.  She pointed out that these institutes not only serve as tools for Chinese propaganda but also as channels for reporting back to the Chinese government.  Pomphili emphasized that while the Italian government is cognizant of China’s influence operations in Italian universities and schools, it lacks the political resolve to implement concrete measures to counteract them.

China often uses education as a tool to further its propaganda and political agenda.  It uses plush positions and chairs in Chinese universities for Italian professors to co-opt them in promoting the Chinese agenda.  Universities are often engaged in technical collaboration as a means to monitor new Italian technologies and acquire them through covert methods.

‘We have shut our eyes and ears to these obvious problems because of money.  This has blinded us to the risks.  Only the other day, a Financial Times report showed that Imperial College had been conducting research partnerships that directly benefited the PLA,” said the founder and Executive Director of Safeguard Defenders Luc de Pulford.  Safeguard Defenders in an NGO that monitors China’s activities worldwide, which includes advocacy for Chinese dissidents who are incarcerated or have been done away with by the Chinese regime.

Speaking at the conference, former Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Italy and Member of Parliament Gianni Vernetti underscored the threat posed by the attempts of china to create a global network under its BRI.  He pointed out that the China – Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was a considered a success by Chinese for it served its agenda, despite all the difficulties the BRI was facing in Pakistan.  Gwadar Port was commercially a failure and in the restive Balochistan BRI was facing stiff opposition from the Baloch people.  Beijing was trying to package BRI as a vehicle of development for poor countries, but its real purpose was to use it as a tool to gain control of assets strategically important for China to spread its hegemony.  Therefore, the recent move by Maldives to endanger its political future by accepting Chinese investments was indeed surprising, Vernetti added.

An article in International Spectators, the magazine of Rome-based Istituto Affari Internazionali, delves into China’s persistent efforts to infiltrate Italian society despite Rome’s decision to withdraw from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).  Despite the Giorgia Meloni government’s termination of the BRI MoU with China due to the lack of tangible economic benefits, this move cast a shadow over Rome’s relationship with Washington. Additionally, the Covid-19 pandemic played a significant role, as the virus entered Italy from China through Milan, renowned as the fashion capital of the world and heavily reliant on textile imports from China.

During the debate in Italy regarding whether to exit from the BRI, a senior politician from the ruling Fratelli d’Italia party wrote in an article that certain industrial sectors, cultural environments, and universities in Italy were exerting strong pressure on the Meloni government to remain in the BRI.  The politician claimed that this pressure from various quarters was indicative of Beijing’s effective capacity to penetrate the economic and societal fabric of Italy.

The insights shared at the conference at the Italian Senate shed light on the multifaceted challenges posed by China’s expansive agenda, ranging from propaganda campaigns to infrastructure investments. It appears that Beijing’s current strategy is to persist in its efforts, aiming for Italy to eventually return to the BRI fold.


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