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Criticism Follows Italy Endorsing China's Global Infrastructure Projects


China's President Xi Jinping paid a visit to Rome recently, and by the time it was all over, Italy had become the first major Western power to endorse China's global infrastructure ambitions. Critics say Italy's endorsement will embolden China's global economic influence and not in a good way. Here's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Italian).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Foreign language spoken).

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: In a sumptuous renaissance villa, Chinese President Xi Jinping listened as Italian and Chinese speakers announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding for a 21st-century Silk Road. Italy is keen for its network of ports, bridges, railways and pipelines linking China with Europe. The Trump administration calls it a vanity project, fearing it could increase China's military influence and include technologies to spy on Western interests. And the EU is angry Rome's euroskeptic government made its own deal with China, which Brussels considers a systemic rival. Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio insists Italy is firmly rooted in its alliances but must also follow its own economic interests.


LUIGI DI MAIO: (Through interpreter) Like someone in the United States said America first, I continue to repeat Italy first in trade relations.

POGGIOLI: But Francesco Sisci, a China expert and researcher at Renmin University in Beijing, says the Rome government appears to have forgotten it has certain obligations as a NATO and EU member.

FRANCESCO SISCI: There is growing concern in the world about the rise of China. If Italy doesn't talk to United States, doesn't talk to Europe, unfortunately relations could get worse, not better, after this - the signing of this MOU.

POGGIOLI: Even Italy's governing coalition is divided. Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the hard-right League Party, warned against the risk of China colonizing Italian markets. Political scientist Sisci says this is a worrisome sign of confusion among Italy's leaders.

SISCI: They are totally amateurs, and amateurs are more dangerous than professional killers.

POGGIOLI: Italian officials are expected to sign more bilateral agreements in Beijing next month. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli
Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.