Authors: Carter Chapwanya and Arun Upadhyaya*
The Trump administration – unlike other US administrations – has clearly taken the ‘with us or against us’ stance particularly when it comes to their effort of taming China’s growth by denigrating the Belt and Road Initiative. As a result of this, the BRI had fallen victim to lots of criticisms from the West and other Trump sympathizers.
In true “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth” fashion, western media platforms have constantly been awash with flawed, biased and often derogatory characterisations of the multi-trillion dollar project with an agenda of deterring its progress.
US vice president, Mike Pence is on record for calling the BRI a product of China’s ‘debt diplomacy.’ Last month, a White House spokesperson called it ‘China’s Infrastructure Vanity Project’ and this has made Washington’s position clear.
The recent signing of Italy to the BRI gravy train has predictably sent proverbial shivers down the spine of Washington as the White House and other US commentators have already started throwing spanners into the recent development.
The National Security Council of the United States held no punches in a scathing tweet against Italy’s decision to join the BRI.
“Italy is a major global economy and a great investment destination. Endorsing BRI lends legitimacy to China’s predatory approach to investment and will bring no benefits to the Italian people,” the tweet reads.
Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State last week lamented Italy’s move to join the BRI claiming that the people of the countries that join BRI would be the ultimate losers.
It is clear that US policy makers are now grasping at straws in their futile attempts of stalling China’s growth because Italy and the Italian people stand to economically benefit commensurately if not more. Italy is set to get better access to Chinese markets, investments in critical sectors such as banking, natural gas, agriculture, steel and a balancing of the €16 billion ($18 billion) trade deficit.
Italyis not only the largest EU member but also the first Group of Seven country to join the BRI. Some analysts have applauded the recent development and highlighted that Italy joining BRI means a lot for the world and it is a testimony of China’s success in major power diplomacy.
Brussels has also been rattled by Italy’s decision to join the Chinese initiative. European Union commissioner, Günther Oettinger has floated the idea of an EU veto over future Chinese deals in Europe in order to protect the continent from growing Chinese influence. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also aired some reservations over Italy’s infrastructure deal with China suggesting that Italy – the third largest economy in the Eurozone –could eventually become dependent on China.
Analysts however say, without better proposals, both the US and Brussels cannot stop countries that engage China for their own economic development. The BRI offers literal pathways for economic cooperation that benefit China and the partnering countries in a ‘win-win’ type of arrangement.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Lu Kang rightfully called the negative remarks by a White House official ‘ridiculous’ noting that Italy is a developed country that is fully capable of making its own policy decisions.
Wang Chao, China’s Vice-minister of foreign affairs also spoke out against the western ‘sky is falling’ rhetoric saying that China had neither the intention of dividing the European Union nor the capability of doing so.
Last week Luxembourg also denounced the ‘debt trap’ allegations as it signed on to become the fifteenth European Union member to join BRI. It appears the western propaganda machine is failing to deter countries from making smart decisions that promote their respective sovereign national interests.
*Arun Upadhyaya is currently an International Politics PhD candidate at Shandong University