Chinese President Xi Jinping in Italy today: Why EU is watching the visit closely
Rome, March 21: Though it is not as apparent as with the US, China's relations with the European Union (EU), too, are facing strains and the issue is set for a wide discussion as Chinese President Xi Jinping pays a visit to Italy, one of the members of the EU, on Friday, March 22.
Italy has come under pressure not to endorse China's encroachments in Europe's infrastructure market though its prime minister Guiseppe Conte has said that Italy's geographical location makes it a natural terminal for Beijing's much-discussed Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) which he has also vowed to join.
In a recent interview to China's CGTN, Conte also confirmed that he will take part in the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing next month.
As of now, though, the focus is on Xi's state visit to Italy, the first by a Chinese head of state to the European nation in a decade.
Italy's position though is not what the EU shares. It has publicly called China as an "economic competitor" and a "systematic rival" and a number of EU capitals have shared the US's concerns about China and especially the alleged involvement of China's firms with national government links acquiring Western high-end technologies, a report in Straits Times reported.
EU is upset with China for a number of reasons
China's ploy of courting 16 former communist countries in central and eastern Europe has irked the EU which sees the "16+1 Group" as Beijing's deliberate attempt to evade the bloc's trade regulations and drive a wedge between the Union, the Straits Times analysis said.
Besides, Beijing's efforts to get major countries of the EU to sign up the BRI that promotes China's trade via infrastructure projects running across Asia into the European continent is another reason that has annoyed the EU.
While key European leaders have refused to sign the non-binding BRI agreement with China, Italy has decided to take an opposite route, claiming that it would do so to improve its trade with the Asian powerhouse.
"We want to make sure that 'Made in Italy' products can have more success in terms of export volume to China," Michele Geraci, undersecretary in Italy's economic development, was quoted as saying by The Financial Times.
EU suspects Italy, facing disputes, is challenging its take on China
The EU members suspect that Italy's far-right populist regime which is already facing several disputes over EU's economic and financial policies, is eyeing for an opportunity to challenge the EU's conservative approach to China by embracing Beijing.
If Italy indeed joins the BRI, it would be a major diplomatic blow for the EU as the South European nation is a founding member of the bloc and also a member of the G7 or the club of the most-industrialised nations of which the US is also a part.