An article by: Tommaso Baronio

The Memorandum of Understanding on the New Silk Road between Italy and China expires at the end of November, and for the Meloni government, this is no longer an economic issue, but a real political problem.

The US is asking to sever ties with China as soon as possible, but Meloni is slow to talk about the need for a parliamentary passage.

At this point, Georgia Meloni finds herself manipulating between pressing issues such as the ratification of the European Stability Mechanism, the implementation of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, and the migration crisis, but on the table, somewhat hidden among the thousand present questions, lies a hot dossier that nobody knows how to accept.

This is the Memorandum of Understanding between Italy and China signed in March 2019 by the first Conte government with President Xi Jinping. This agreement that has no international significance but defines the principles and methods of cooperation for creating the New Silk Road, the initiative “One Belt, One Road.” The Bank for International Settlements is an ambitious project promoted by the President of China to develop an expanded market and increase China’s economic and political power.

Italy was the only G7 country that agreed to cooperate with the PRC, catching sharp reproaches from Brussels and Washington. The agreement between the two countries covers trade, transport, infrastructure, financial cooperation, people-to-people communication, and cooperation in the field of ecological transition. It was a symbolic event in the history of Italian foreign policy in recent years, but now this issue is boomeranging back to the Meloni government, because the pact expires in 2023, and if one of the two parties does not take a step back, the treaty will be automatically renewed.



According to most scientists, the memorandum did not bring much benefit to our country, insomuch that some dare to speak of it as an “empty box.” According to Bloomberg, Italian exports to China have tripled in just one year, and even experts have a hard time explaining these numbers. Italian exports have exceeded three billion euros, and everything can be attributed to one specific sector: pharmaceuticals. In particular, exports of “drugs consisting of mixed or unmixed products for remedial or prophylactic purposes presented in metered doses” reached 1.84 billion euros in February, compared to 98.5 million a year before.

However, the data also needs to be calibrated taking into account the fact that in parallel with the growth of Italian exports, imports of Chinese goods also increased significantly – from 31.7 billion to 57.5 billion in about four years.

Concerning Chinese investment in Italy, the figures amount to about 16 billion euros. The return is lower compared to investments in European countries, such as the UK and Germany, where Xi Jinping spent 51.9 billion and 24.8 billion, respectively, without being formally part of the New Silk Road.


The deadline is the end of November, and the mantra of the Italian Foreign Ministry at the moment is “we are thinking.” The data clearly shows that this is now a purely political and not an economic choice, which will irreparably place a mark on the foreign policy of the Meloni government. The prime minister has repeatedly criticized the Chinese government in the past, softening her position after taking office. However, during the election campaign, she expressed a clear position regarding the IDB, namely that joining it was a mistake. Needless to say, the US is asking to sever ties with China as soon as possible, but Meloni is playing for time, speaking about the necessity of a parliamentary passage, which is not yet known exactly what it will mean in practice. Giulia Pompili writes in Foglio, “According to those who follow this issue in the ranks of the Brothers of Italy, there is no decision on it yet: for now it seems like a smoky option, far from being resolved. However, a real parliamentary debate is expected within the opposition, and thus a resolution – a tool that certainly calls for debate, but with which the government had poor experience when voting on a budget deviation from the Democratic Party’s Economic Planning, at the end of April. Then there are those who talk about one transition in the Parliamentary Committee on the Security of the Republic, which has already voiced its disagreement with Russian-Chinese interference in the past. In any case, if the decision is passed through the Parliament, taking into account those who are in favor, the result would be quite clear: the majority would vote in favor of withdrawing from the Silk Road.”

The distribution of blame in the eyes of China, even if it is said that the closure of the agreement will not mean the conclusion of a new one. A hypothesis that cannot be abandoned by reading Minister Urso’s words during his visit to Washington: “The Silk Road is a decision that our government will make on its own, with the understanding that China has been, is and will be a major trading partner. China is a big country with which we can develop agreements, and I also hope that Chinese investments in our country will increase in sectors where they can give a lot for development, let’s recall green technologies or the electric battery supply chain.”



Tommaso Baronio