Mario Draghi sets the tone for cooling down Sino-European relations

It was the aborted acquisition of an obscure Italian company with fewer than 50 employees this year that illustrates the extent to which one of China’s biggest diplomatic successes in Europe has collapsed.

In 2019, Italy’s then populist coalition government became the first G7 member to sign China’s “Belt and Road” initiative, which shocked Rome’s American and European allies. The agreement was signed during the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping, pushing Italy to the forefront of Beijing’s struggle for global power and influence.

But two years later, the new Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi quietly signed a decree that symbolically ended China’s courtship of Italy and curbed Beijing’s beachhead in Western Europe.

Under tremendous pressure from the United States, the previous Italian government has begun to cool down its investment in China. Even so, Draghi’s move marked a decisive change in Italy’s foreign policy, which he called “strongly pro-European and Atlanticism, consistent with Italy’s historical pillars.”

It also heralds a broader rethinking of China’s relations in the EU, which has recently led to the European Parliament’s Freeze its pending trade agreement And Beijing.

“In order to make Italy look consistent with the United States, sometimes you need to do some small things to prove it,” said Michel Gerach, an expert on China, who is the deputy minister in charge of economic development and also the Italian “Belt and Road” initiative. One of the creators of. Reached an agreement with Beijing.

Geraci added that this is “a political statement that we are concerned about predatory acquisitions and that we are aligned with our American friends.” Italy’s participation in China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative is still technically valid, but it has become meaningless and no major transactions have taken place.

The differences between China and Italy began in December last year, two months before Draghi was appointed as prime minister. Part of the state-owned Chinese company Shenzhen Investment Holdings reached an agreement to acquire 70% of LPE, a private company headquartered in Milan that manufactures semiconductor equipment.

But in March, with the Draghi government in place, the decision to approve the acquisition fell on the desk of Giancarlo Giorgetti, Italy’s new Minister of Economic Development, as a routine matter.

As a senior member of the Right-wing Coalition Party, Giorgetti proposed to invoke Italy’s so-called golden power law to prevent foreign acquisitions.Sign of Draghi Law prohibiting the sale of LPE At the cabinet meeting on March 31, LPE became part of the “strategic department” on the grounds of semiconductor shortages.

LPE, which produces components used in power electronics applications, these components are also used in ” [the] The military field”, as described in the decree, declined to comment. Shenzhen Vision Holdings once said It will continue to cooperate with LPE in certain areas.

Draghi’s decision is a watershed in Italy, and Italian diplomats say it may also be a watershed in the European Union.

Just a few years ago, Italian politicians were keen on how Chinese funds would help the troubled economy. According to data from Rhodium Group, Italy was the third largest European beneficiary of Chinese investment from 2000 to 2019, with a total of 15.9 billion euros, compared with 50 billion euros in the UK, 22.7 billion euros in Germany, and 14.4 billion euros in France.

According to data from Copasir, the National Security Committee of the Italian Parliament, as of 2020, more than 400 Chinese groups also hold shares in 760 Italian companies, involving “high-profit or strategic industries.”

But today, partly because the pandemic has made many Italian companies vulnerable, the Draghi government has taken a less lenient attitude towards strategic foreign investment than previous governments, and has not hesitated to exercise the golden rule to restrict these investments.

Last month, with the support of the EUR 205 billion EU Recovery Fund, Italy and France coordinated to weaken the sale Italian truck manufacturer Iveco joins China FAW Group. This week, although Rome conditionally authorized the 5G infrastructure supply contract between the two parties. Vodafone Italy and China’s Huawei, It comes with strict safety conditions.

“The transition to China belongs to the past,” said League Member Edoardo Rixi. “Today’s political trend is almost non-existent.”

Not everyone agrees that maintaining a calm relationship with Beijing is in the best interests of Italy or Europe.

This week, the former prime minister gave a speech Romano Prodi says: “Until a few months ago… the situation [between China and the EU] Easier, but now the agreement has been frozen. Prodi added that given the tension between the two sides, “both sides must change their attitudes.” .. It is officially impossible to do anything now”.

Geraci also worried that the Draghi government’s transition to China would have an economic impact on Italian companies in Beijing.

“According to official data, the market size of Italian goods in China is 13 billion euros per year, but in fact, if you include products made in Italy, and then products purchased by China through third countries, the market size is three times this number. . For us, this is a very important market.”

However, how to readjust the relationship is still an open question.

Lia Quartapelle, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Italian Parliament of the center-left Democratic Party, said that the previous shift to China was an aberration in Italy’s foreign policy and opened a “geostrategic rift” in the center of Europe.

However, now, “Draghi’s talents not only enable us to strengthen Western values, but also become the engine of recovery in the post-pandemic era,” she added.

In addition, as the elections in Germany this year and France next year are absorbed, Draghi is an important European participant, and his firm Atlanticism may affect the broader EU’s China policy.

Former Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino (Emma Bonino) said: “Italy’s role in maintaining a stable direction will soon become more important.”

“Of course, the policy to deal with China is still complicated; we cannot pretend that this country does not exist,” she added. “We can trade with China as we do with the rest of the world, but we must be aware of the differences and differences between us and them.”

Liu Qianer Shenzhen Supplementary Report

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About the Author: Agnes Zang