Italy may be ready to open up four ports to Chinese investment

Four ports in Italy may be in line for Chinese investment under China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, despite security concerns within Italy and the European Union, according to diplomatic sources.

A deal on the ports is expected to be on the agenda when Chinese President Xi Jinping heads to Rome this week for talks with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

The northwestern city of Genoa, Italy’s biggest seaport, said it would sign cooperation agreements with China, while in the south the Sicilian port of Palermo – which Xi is expected to visit this weekend – is the focus of Rome’s efforts to attract Chinese shipping operators. Two ports in the northern Adriatic Sea, Trieste and Ravenna, might also be part of Italy’s memorandum of understanding with Xi as part of a plan to compete with major European ports, the sources said.

The Italian government has said that allowing Chinese state companies to manage or hold stakes in Italian ports would be key to expanding exports.

But the EU, the United States and some members of the Italian government are concerned that such investment could be a “Trojan horse” for penetrating Italy’s economy.

Last week, the European Commission labelled Beijing a “systemic rival” and called on EU leaders to back its proposals to limit the presence of Chinese state-owned businesses in Europe.

Conte has said his government will not ignore European frameworks and principles on commercial transparency and national security.

On Tuesday he said the commercial and economic deals he would seal with China had no implications for Italy’s geopolitical position.

Conte told parliament that a memorandum of understanding to be signed with Xi hooking Italy up to the belt and road programme “does not remotely put into doubt our euro-Atlantic alliance”.

The United States has warned Italy against signing the MOU on what it calls a Chinese “vanity project”, but Conte left no doubt that the deal would go ahead.

source: South China Morning Post