In a major setback for China, Italy has communicated to Chinese Premier Li Qiang its intentions to pull out of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI).

Italian media reported that Meloni and Jiang met at the sidelines of the G20 Leaders Summit in New Delhi on Saturday, where the Italian Premier conveyed about her country’s plans to leave the initiative, which is a global trade and infrastructure plan based on the lines of the old Silk Road that linked China and the West.

Italy, the only G7 member country which has joined the BRI, is scheduled to hold the G7 presidency in 2024. “There are European nations which in recent years haven’t been part of the Belt and Road but have been able to forge more favourable relations (with China) than we have sometimes managed,” Reuters reported Meloni speaking at a press conference at the end of the G20 summit in New Delhi.

Italy’s leading news agency ANSA reported that the Italian Parliament will have the final say in the country’s decision to leave the BRI. “Italian government was invited to the Belt and Road Forum, but yesterday we did not talk about it. We had a bilateral with Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang, a cordial and constructive dialogue on how we can deepen our bilateral partnership,” ANSA reported Meloni saying at the Delhi press conference.

Italy’s plans to leave the BRI comes close on the heels of a transnational infrastructure push being planned by the G20 nations, which connects India, the Middle East and Europe through railways and shipping to boost trade and investment.

On Saturday, the G20 members—the US, India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France, Germany, Italy and the European Union—announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) committing to work together to develop a new India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor. 

“The United States and our partners intend to link both continents to commercial hubs and facilitate the development and export of clean energy; lay undersea cables and link energy grids and telecommunication lines to expand reliable access to electricity; enable innovation of advanced clean energy technology; and connect communities to secure and stable Internet,” The White House said in a release.

Analysts said that the US aims to counter China’s ambitious BRI through the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). “This is a big deal. This is a really big deal,” US President Joe Biden said after the announcement of the economic corridor project.

More opportunities

Also, India was not part of the BRI, but the economic corridor offers it an opportunity to tap markets in Middle East and Europe with clean energy products and services such as exporting green hydrogen and green ammonia, solar and wind power through under sea cables, etc.

The IMEC will comprise two separate corridors — the east corridor connecting India to the Arabian Gulf and the northern corridor connecting the Arabian Gulf to Europe. It will include a railway that, upon completion, will provide a reliable and cost-effective cross-border ship-to-rail transit network to supplement existing maritime and road transport routes – enabling goods and services to transit to, from, and between India, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Europe.

Along the railway route, participants intend to enable the laying of cable for electricity and digital connectivity, as well as pipe for clean hydrogen export.