Italy intends to exit China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) “without harming” its relations with Beijing, Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto has said.

“The problem today is: how to go back (from the BRI) without damaging relations” with Beijing, Crosetto said in an interview with Corriere della Sera. “Because it’s true that China is a competitor, but it’s also a partner. »

In May, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said the country could enjoy good relations with China even without being part of Beijing’s controversial infrastructure initiative. Crosetto’s comments are the first confirmation of Italy’s intention to leave the Chinese programme.

“The choice to join the Silk Road was an improvised and malicious act, made by the government of Giuseppe Conte, which led to a double negative result. We exported a load of oranges to China, they tripled exports to Italy in three years,” Crosetto said in the interview.

In 2019, Italy became the first G7 country to join China’s global infrastructure program to the surprise of Western allies.

Critics have noted that Rome’s decision to participate in Beijing’s initiative has not improved its trade deficit with China. Chinese exports to Italy increased by 51% between 2019 and 2022, while Chinese imports from the EU country increased by 26% in the same years, according to the Italian Trade Agency.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire meanwhile said France wanted better access to the Chinese market and a more “balanced” trade relationship, not “decoupling”.

“We don’t want to face any legislative hurdles or other barriers to accessing Chinese markets,” Le Maire told a news conference in Beijing the day after what he called trade talks. constructive” with Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng.

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