Italy’s Di Maio says ties to US more important than those to China

ROME — The United States is a much more important ally for Italy than China, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio affirmed Monday.

During a news conference in Rome standing beside U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Di Maio said Sino-Italian commercial ties “are absolutely incomparable with” Italy’s alliance with the U.S. as well as partnerships with NATO and the EU.

The United States has previously expressed concerns about Italy’s relationship with China, particularly after Di Maio helped sign his country up to Beijing’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative while serving as economic development minister in 2019.

But since Mario Draghi became Italian prime minister in February, leading a so-called government of national unity, the former European Central Bank chief has been emphasizing the country’s commitment to its transatlantic relationship.  

“Let me be very clear,” Di Maio said, Italy’s alliances with the U.S., NATO and the EU “are not just strategic alliances, but alliances of values which allow our democracy to confront issues such as violations of human rights.”

“Italy is a strong commercial partner with China, we have had historic relations, but they absolutely do not compare with and do not interfere with our alliances of values with the U.S., NATO and the EU,” he added.

The previous Italian government had hoped that by endorsing the Belt and Road initiative, China would offer the country fresh investment for its domestic economy, which had been stagnant for a decade.

But the move by Italy, a member of the G7 group of the world’s largest so-called advanced economies, to enter China’s sphere of influence also caused consternation in Washington, and came just after the European Commission had labeled Beijing a systemic rival.

Italy, which was awarded the largest share of the EU’s post-pandemic economic recovery fund at €209 billion, now has far less need for Chinese investment.

Earlier this month, Rome joined as a participant in a U.S. initiative called Build Back Better World, which the White House calls “a constructive initiative to meet the enormous infrastructure needs of low- and middle-income countries,” providing them with a “positive alternative to China.”

Blinken welcomed Di Maio’s approach to China, saying, “I think we all recognize the complexity of relationship, with China … adversarial, competitive and at times cooperative.”

Blinken added: “The common denominator is approaching [these complexities] together and increasingly that’s what we are seeing.”

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