To the concern of Germany, France, Holland and other EU countries, Italy’s coalition has just signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China to join China’s Belt Road Initiative, the so-called New Economic Silk Road. Italy is the only industrial G7 country so far to opt in to the BRI. The China dealhas the potential to change the geopolitics of not only the EU but also most of the world. It’s about who controls which major maritime ports of world commerce.
While much attention has focused on the role of high-speed rail infrastructure as the backbone of the ambitious China BRI project, little attention has been so far given to what may be a far more strategic geopolitical development in China’s BRI, namely China’s ability to own or control the most vital ports of Asia, of Africa, major parts of Latin America and now,evidently, of the European Union.
During Xi Jinping’s Italy talks, the two sides signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for various business deals between Italian and Chinese state companies in agriculture, finance and energy. The actual deals signed totaled $2.8 billion for 29 projects, with possible expansion up to $20 billion, hardly yet a game-changer for economically distressed Italy.
The heart of the MOU for China, however, is the potential for Chinese investment in Italian ports, notably Genoa, possibly Palermo and Trieste where China’s Communications and Construction Company will be given access to the port of Trieste on the Adriatic Sea to enable links to central and eastern Europe.
The Chinese inroads with the Italian government are strongly opposed by not only Washington, but also by Brussels, especially Germany and France. They argue that the bilateral Italy-China BRI agreements for port and infrastructure development run counter to the larger established EU transportation strategies. The more honest reasons perhaps are growing alarm in Hamburg and Rotterdam and Antwerp, Belgium over potential loss of shipping trade to southern Europe. By expanding its port presence from Greece into Italy, China potentially gains a huge trade infrastructure advantage in EU trade terms via southern Europe. ...