By John Ross Source: CGTN Published: 2019-4-25
In March, China and Italy have witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), making Italy the first G7 nation to officially endorse the BRI.
And with the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation kicking off on April 25, hot discussions about the BRI are under way in the international community. How will the BRI influence China and other countries? John Ross explains why he thinks China's relationship with Europe will be enhanced with the BRI.
CGTN: What are your views on the concerns about the influence of the BRI after China and Italy signed the BRI MoU?
Ross: I think it's very good that (Italy) signed up the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China is becoming increasingly successful. Western countries once had good relations with China. For example, two or three years ago, there was the so-called Golden Period between the UK and China when (former UK Prime Minister) David Cameron paid a lot of attention to China. Unfortunately his new successor, Theresa May, is not following through with this policy. Italy will (promote its relations with China).
So I think you will start to have a serious situation in which Western countries, particularly in Europe, will become more interested in the very good relations with China, like the BRI. The problem is the U.S. doesn't like it, and therefore the U.S. current policy is to try to put pressure. So it's led to a lot of criticism of Italy for joining in the BRI. But this is against Italy's interests. Why should Italy give it up?
Italy is not saying the U.S. should not invest in Italy. I'm sure Italy will be very pleased if the U.S. invests in Italy. And Italy is also very pleased if China invests in Italy. So therefore, I think they are just propaganda attacks, which are not in the interests of Italian people or in the interests of Chinese people. So I think what Italy did was very good.
CGTN: What effects could Italy's embrace of BRI have in terms of Western countries and their views on Chinese foreign investment?
Ross: I think it's becoming a leading country. I mean the U.S. has a big presence in Europe, particularly because it's in the NATO alliance which has very important military responsibilities. So if the U.S. says that it does not want countries participating in the BRI, this creates some pressure. So there's a sort of contest. On the one hand, (owing to) economic interests, countries want to have good relations with China. On the other hand, the U.S. puts pressure through military means to not have good relations. So you have some sort of fighting inside countries.
Some countries, for example, Germany has very good economic relations with China. China is Germany's biggest trading partner, but Germany is very dependent upon the U.S. militarily. Therefore, I don't think Germany will go very fast to the BRI. Italy has gone more quickly and I think you'll see this. In the next five years, you will see some struggles in which the economic interests of European countries will lead them closely to the BRI and to China. But at least the present American administration is putting negative pressure. Let's hope that there will be a change in the U.S. policy. But anyway, I'm sure that European countries will get closer to China because it's in their economic interest to do so.
You have to have a medium-term perspective of how successful relations between China and Europe are going to be. The cooperation between Italy and China is very good. I wouldn't expect it to be followed very quickly by many other Western countries, where they will have to wait and see how successful this cooperation is with Italy.
Of course, one other country already cooperating with China is Greece, a smaller country. So it started off with Greece, which has big investments from China. This is a very small country having very good relations with China. Now you have a big country that has good relations with China. But of course, Italy is not yet as big as Germany. So we will see a process take place.
John Ross is a senior fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.