Rome - The ancient Silk Road was a network of trading routes that stretched from China to Italy, transporting goods, skills and ideas half way around the world.
Jump forward two millennia and Italy now wants to play a pivotal role in the new Silk Road being created by Chinese President Xi Jinping. But joining the latest incarnation is proving controversial and risky for Rome’s modern-day masters.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte plans to sign a preliminary accord when Xi visits Rome next week, hooking Italy up to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) - a colossal, multi-billion-dollar project designed to improve Beijing’s trade reach.
Italy’s drive to be the first Group of Seven industrialized nation to join the ambitious venture has angered Washington and alarmed Brussels, raising fears of a sellout of sensitive technologies and the handover of critical infrastructure.
With ports that offer easy gateways into Europe’s richest markets, Italy is a promising and prestigious prize for China. In return for its endorsement, Italy’s government hopes for a boost in exports and investment that will lift its anemic economy out of its third recession in a decade.
But diplomatic analysts and political foes say Rome has not weighed the geopolitical risks, failed to consult with its Western partners and underestimated growing concern about China’s burgeoning global aspirations. “I am afraid that up until now we have handled this in too amateurish a fashion, without any real coordination,” Lucio Caracciolo, director of the influential Limes geopolitical review, told Reuters.