Italy as China's gateway to Europe?
Italy wants to be the first G7 state to take part in Beijing's "New Silk Road" project. The two sides signed a corresponding memorandum of understanding on Saturday in Rome. While Germany and France criticised the move, commentators come to Italy's defence.
Hypocrisy on the part of Merkel and Macron
Paris and Berlin would do well to put their own house in order before they criticise Italy's cooperation with China, writes deputy editor Gianfranco Marcelli in Avvenire:
“It is somewhat surprising to see who is doing the criticising: for example the French president, who sidestepped all his European colleagues and flew to Beijing in January of last year, where he signed some twenty fat trade deals with Xi. ... And it seems no less strange that Merkel is so worried about what Italy is up to, seeing as China is now her country's all-time biggest trading partner. ... That said, the admonitions that we must strengthen European solidarity are entirely welcome. Provided, that is, that they also apply to France and Germany.”
Overcome mistrust of Beijing
The China Daily, which is published in Beijing, explains that China's new Silk Road shouldn't be demonised:
“Rather than being economic aggression as it has been labelled by some in the developed countries, the Belt and Road Initiative, as the participating countries realize, aims to promote win-win economic cooperation, which will hopefully help bridge the development gap between developing and developed countries. It is also an antidote to the prevailing unilateralism and trade protectionism as far as globalization is concerned. ... With better connectivity for economic cooperation among a wider range of countries, there will be more possibility for the world economy to pick up steam. Which will hopefully help fight against the rising populism and other forms of extremism. If only more major developed countries could participate. That would be of great benefit to the development of the world economy. But it is obvious that they need to overcome their suspicions about the initiative first.”
Europe must not put itself at China's mercy
Italy is taking a dangerous step, NRC Handelsblad warns:
“China is showing how difficult it is for the EU to reach a joint position, even vis-à-vis a common challenge from abroad. ... The Silk Road is controversial among other things because it increases dependence on China. This won't be the last time that the temptation of Chinese investments conflicts with the need for vigilance regarding a country that is very different from Europe politically and economically. Europe must not leave itself vulnerable to a major power that has no respect for the market economy and democracy and has a lax attitude towards human rights.”
Mission "China first"
The government in Rome is letting itself be fooled by China, Die Presse writes:
“Now Xi is wooing his 'dear Italian friends', offering them cooperation and investment in everything from sea ports to telecommunications. He is making a big effort to dispel the doubts about the New Silk Road for which Xi is trying to win support on his current Europe tour. But this initiative is and remains above all a project for boosting the Chinese economy and expanding the country's influence across the globe. Xi never left any doubt that for him - as for the current US president with his 'America first' motto - it's 'China first'.”
Rome's wooing in vain
Xi Jinping continued his Europe tour in France on Sunday, where he will meet Macron, Merkel and Juncker on Tuesday. That's where the really important discussions will take place, Brussels correspondent Andrea Bonanni explains in La Repubblica:
“President Xi can sign as many memoranda and treaties in Rome as he likes. ... He can promise easy deals and financing as well as a wave of millions of Chinese tourists. ... But if he wants to talk with Europe about the weighty issues that are close to the hearts of the major powers, he has to go to France. ... Europe, the true Europe, the Europe that counts and whose clout must be recognised, doesn't begin in Rome but on the other side of the Alps.”
Greater resolve good for the EU
The EU Commission wants to defend European interests vis-à-vis Beijing with a ten-point plan. A joint front against China is taking shape, La Croix writes in delight:
“Luckily the Europeans are becoming aware of the threat. They are changing their attitude and adopting a more resolved stance. The summit of the heads of state and government in Brussels also examined a paper put out by the EU Commission regarding China which stresses the principle of reciprocity. ... The EU states will have to do more to protect themselves against unfair, disloyal and non-transparent practices and an investment policy that could quickly lead to a loss of sovereignty. When it comes to mutual support, it's best for it to be between Europeans.”