Italy became the first Group of Seven (G7) country to join the global strategic partnership known as the Belt and Road Initiative as Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte assigned a memorandum of understanding with China President Xi Jinping in Rome last Saturday.
The new global partnership, also known as the New Silk Road, recalls the ancient Silk Road that linked China with the Middle East and Europe from 130 BC to 1453 AD. That ancient road connected the two principal centers of civilization of that time for over 1,500 years, before it was blocked by geo-political events in the Middle East, forcing the West to seek new routes by sea to the Far East.
Today China is seeking to revive that ancient trade route, this time with steel and concrete, optic fiber cables and satellite links, power plants and factories, and investment funds and new technologies. The new Silk Road seeks to link over 65 countries and economies in a process they hope will foster peace and prosperity.
Explaining Italy’s interest in the Belt and Road Initiative ahead of other members of the European Union with its policy of dealing with China as a bloc, Italian Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero said, “Italy is a major manufacturing and exporting country for whom it is very important to have access to such a large market as China.” At the China International Import Expo in November, 2018, President Xi Jinping had announced that China will be importing and needing services amounting to $2 trillion a year.
In Southeast Asia, the Philippines has been among the first supporters of the Belt and Road Initiative, with President Duterte due to attend the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing next month. The ancient Silk Road was a largely land route from China through Central Asia to Iran, Turkey, Moscow, Netherlands, and Italy. The new Silk Road will also have a sea route that will go through Southeast Asia, India, Africa, on to Greece and Italy via the Suez Canal.
Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. was on an official visit last week in China where he said the mutual respect and friendship between President Duterte and Presiden Xi jinping have “laid the foundation of a revitalized relationship between the Philippines and China which have always been friends and never enemies.”
The Philippines which played a vital role in the Galleon Trade which once connected Asia to the New World in South America expects to also play a major role in the new Silk Road that is the Belt and Road Initiative, with Davao expected to be a key port in the sea route of the developing trade community.
With Italy’s formal entry, the Belt and Road Initiative takes a big step forward towards its goal of greater global economic progress.