China eyes Trieste and Genoa as Italy joins Belt and Road initiative

A giant Chinese contractor is to be involved in developing two Italian ports after Italy became the first G7 country formally to endorse China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) on Saturday, 23 March, amid concern expressed by other European Union members.

State-owned infrastructure group China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) signed cooperation accords with authorities governing the ports of Trieste and Genoa during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Rome on the weekend.

Some 28 other cooperation agreements, worth approximately $2.8bn in all, were signed between the two countries, reports Reuters, as Xi and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU) pledging Italy’s cooperation in the BRI, China’s global infrastructure investment plan intended to expedite the flow of goods between it and the rest of the world.

Such MoU’s are usually the precursor to infrastructure investment from China, which Prime Minister Conte welcomes as necessary for boosting Italy’s struggling economy.

But the move has raised eyebrows among some fellow EU members wary about China’s economic dominance.

On Friday EU country leaders met in Brussels to discuss a coordinated response to China’s overtures. French President Emmanuel Macron was outspoken.

"The time of European naïveté is ended," Macron said after the meeting, reports the Financial Times. "For many years we had an uncoordinated approach and China took advantage of our divisions."

President Xi is courting France as well, however, and was in Paris today to sign trade deals with Macron reportedly worth billions of euros.

There were few details on the port development agreements.

In Trieste, a statement from the Port System Authority of the Eastern Adriatic Sea said the agreement with CCCC concerned railway infrastructures in the port region, "in particular the new stations of Servola and Aquilinia, included in the ‘Trihub’ project, the integrated plan to reinforce the railway infrastructure system in the area between Cervignano del Friuli, Villa Opicina and Trieste". 

In Genoa, a statement from the Port System Authority of the Western Ligurian Sea said the agreement between it, CCCC, and the Extraordinary Commissioner for the Reconstruction of Genoa had the "aim of cooperating in the implementation of the Extraordinary Program of urgent investments for the recovery and development of the port of Genoa and of the related accessibility infrastructures".

Image: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Villa Madama, Rome on 23 March 2019 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IT) 

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