During his recent visit to Europe, Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a billion dollar deal with France along with Beijing’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI) with Italy. The trip was meant to be of “historic importance” by the Chinese media as the aim was to strengthen Beijing’s ties within the European region.
One Belt One Road is President Jinping’s plan to build a vast network of trade routes across the globe with high-speed rail into Europe, massive shipping ports throughout Asia and the Pacific, and free trade agreements with dozens of nations. China wanted to revive an ancient network of land and ocean silk trade routes and thereby spent billions of dollars on new infrastructure projects for roads, railways, ports and maritime corridors. From years, the Chinese President continued to publicize the Belt Road Initiative so that more nations could join.
In the present day scenario, Jinping’s trip was majorly concerned with Italy’s decision to sign up to Beijing’s controversial Belt Road Initiative and dozens of other trade and infrastructure agreements. With the signing of the initiative, Italy became one of the first Group of Seven Nations, including powerful economies like the UK, the USA, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, and Canada. In the previous attempts, the initiative was rejected by most of the western countries, including Australia.
Though China is an important trade partner for Australia, yet Jinping’s ambitious economic initiative was warned by senior national security figures as of serious strategic consequences if Australia formally signed up. However, the signing of Memorandum of Understanding on October 2018 was a commitment by Victoria to work together with Beijing on future projects which included infrastructure and trade finance to inject new development for the benefit of both the parties.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte became the first G7 leader to sign a MOU with China for Belt Road Initiative, which covered a wide range of topics, including satellites, cooperation in banking, natural gas, an increase in bilateral trade etc. He signed 31 agreements worth up to 20 billion Euros. The deal would offer China key access into landlocked Mediterranean countries, including Australia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.
Conte informed the Italian Parliament that the deal would not be a concern for the countries international allies. In addition to the agreement, which was not legally binding, Conte said, “We want to first and foremost rebalance our trade, which is not favorable to us now”.
Yesterday Chinese President Jinping signed 15 business deals worth $63.6 billion with French President Emmanuel Macron, which included contracts for renewable energy, shipping, and banking, as well as an order of 300 Airbus airplanes. In his tweet yesterday, Macron said that France and China were not rivals, but “long-term partners” at a time where the EU is at a crossroads. However, he did not sign the Belt Road Initiative, as it did not meet the international norms.
Even though both the leaders released a joint message saying, ”Europe must be united and have a coherent message”, yet China was criticized for its clever way through the deal. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned other European countries against following suit with Rome, saying: “In a world with giants like China, Russia or our partners in the United States, we can only survive if we are united as the EU”. He said that the expansion of transport links between Europe and Asia was positive, but expressed concern that “rail lines or harbors are no longer in European but in Chinese hands”.
With China’s way of offering mutual interest for development of all and enormous economic benefit, it would be a matter of time when all the EU countries will join the Belt Road Initiative.