Italian government split over ‘Silk Road’ accord with China

Italian officials have confirmed they'll sign the New Silk Road 'memorandum' with China later this month, dividing opinion within the country's coalition government and prompting warnings from the US.

Italian government split over 'Silk Road' accord with China
Italian Interior Minister and League leader Matteo Salvini. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The “memorandum of understanding” with China, officially supporting Beijing's massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), will be signed during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Rome on March 20, the Italian Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs said on Monday.

The signing will make Italy the first G7 nation to join the so-called “New Silk Road” project, Manlio Di Stefano told La Stampa.

But Italy's coalition government faces another split over the issue, with League leader and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, telling reporters in Milan on Monday that the deal could mean foreign companies “colonising Italy.”

“It it's a matter of helping Italian companies to invest abroad we are willing to talk to anyone,” Salvini said.

“If it's a question of colonising Italy and its firms by foreign powers, no,” he said, adding that this was “the position of the whole League”.

However, his government coalition partners in the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), who are supporting the accord, said Industry Undersecretary Michele Geraci, also of the League, “strongly supports the agreement” and told news agency Ansa there was an internal split in the League, rather than a split between the two parties.

READ ALSO: Venice-themed ship cruises to burgeoning China market

Salvini's words echoed concerns voiced by the United States and other Western countries that the ambitious infrastructure project could be a Trojan horse for Chinese expansion.

Di Stefano pointed out that the memorandum is “not binding” and “does not have the status of an international agreement.”

Neither, he said, does it concern the telecoms sector, access to which critics fear could allow China to create “backdoors” allowing Beijing to spy on Western countries.

Tha US had already spoken to Rome about security fears around Chinese technology company Huawei.

The Chinese BRI plan is often called the “New Silk Road” as it aims to revive and extend the ancient trade routes.

A map shows how the former Silk Road routes could be extended today. Image:Belt and Road Portal, China’s National Development and Reform Commission

READ ALSO: Prada looks to China for growth after rough year for sales

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Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

An Italian centre-left election pact broke down on Sunday just days after it was formed, leaving the path to power clear for the hard-right coalition.

Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

The alliance between Italian centre-left parties was left in disarray on Sunday night, potentially meaning a landslide victory for the hard-right coalition at early general elections in September.

The leader of the centrist Azione party withdrew support for the left-wing coalition led by the Democratic Party (PD) just five days after the two joined forces, saying it could not work with left-wingers brought in to boost the alliance.

Carlo Calenda, leader of Azione, withdrew his support on Sunday after PD made another pact with smaller left-wing parties including the radical Sinistra Italiana, and new green party Europa Verde.

“You cannot explain (to voters) that to defend the constitution you make a pact with people you know you will never govern with,” Calenda told newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The news was greeted with jubilation by hard-right League leader Matteo Salvini, who tweeted: “On the left chaos and everyone against everyone!”

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the neofascist Brothers of Italy party (FdI) mocked a “new twist in the soap opera of the centre-left.”

READ ALSO: Italy to choose ‘Europe or nationalism’ at election, says PD leader

Analyists predict the centre-left split could hand the right-wing bloc a landslide victory at the election on September 25th, with Meloni tipped to become Italy’s first female prime minister.

Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni has a strong alliance with Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Letta is struggling to bring together the disparate  progressive parties.

The PD is neck and neck with Brothers of Italy in the latest opinion polls, but even in partnership with Azione, the group most recently polled at 33.6 percent, compared with 46.4 percent for the right.

Political commentators said the only hope PD has now of posing a credible threat to the right-wing alliance would be by partnering with the Five Star Movement.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy’s government collapsed in the middle of summer?

However, Letta has repeatedly said this is out of the question, as he blames M5S for triggering the political crisis that brought down Mario Draghi’s broad coalition government.

“Either PD eats its hat and seeks alliance with M5S to defeat the right-wing coalition, or it’s hard to see how the right can possibly lose the forthcoming election,” Dr Daniele Albertazzi, a politics professor at the University of Surrey in England, tweeted on Sunday.

Early elections were called after Draghi resigned in late July. His government currently remains in place in a caretaker role.