After more than four years of being the sole G7 nation to join, Italy has decided to withdraw from China’s extensive Belt and Road infrastructure Initiative, as confirmed by a government source on Wednesday.

Italy has withdrawn from China’s vast Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, more than four years after becoming the only G7 nation to sign up, a government source said on Wednesday.

The long-expected decision was quietly communicated to Beijing three days ago without any official announcement, according to the Corriere della Sera daily.

An Italian government source confirmed to the media on Wednesday that Rome had pulled out, giving no details beyond saying it was done in such a way as to “keep channels of political dialogue open.”

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has long been opposed to Italy’s participation in an initiative viewed by many as an attempt by Beijing to buy political influence — and whose economic benefits to Rome were limited.

The deal was due to automatically renew in March 2024 unless Italy opted out by the end of this year.

But Meloni and her hard-right government were also wary of provoking Beijing and risking retaliation against Italian companies.

Without directly confirming the news, Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said on Wednesday that Italy was seeking to “relaunch the strategic partnership” with Beijing.

He told Parliament that during a September trip to China, he made it clear that Rome wanted to “promote better access to our products regardless of our participation” in the BRI.

News of the decision emerged on the eve of a high-level EU-China summit in Beijing on Thursday, the first of its kind since 2019 and set to focus on trade.

Beijing says upwards of 150 countries stretching from Uruguay to Sri Lanka have signed up to the initiative, a central pillar of President Xi Jinping’s bid to expand China’s clout overseas.

It says it has inked over two trillion dollars in contracts around the world, from high-speed rail tracks crisscrossing Southeast Asia and massive transport to energy and infrastructure works through Central Asia.

Proponents hail it for bringing resources and economic growth to the Global South, but it has also been slammed for saddling poor countries with enormous debt.

It has also given Chinese infrastructure firms a foothold in many emerging economies.

There are concerns, particularly among Western nations, that China is seeking to rebuild the global world order to its advantage, while opposition voices in BRI countries have also decried what they see as increasing Chinese influence in local politics.

Meanwhile, Washington has warned that China could use the initiative as a pretext to build up military bases around the world in the name of protecting BRI investments.

Khalil Wakim, with AFP