28 March 2019, The Tablet

View from Rome

View from Rome

While Britain agonises over how to Brexit (or not), the government in Italy – where anti-EU sentiment is on the rise – is turning East. No one in Rome predicts Italexit, but while they may not be happy with Brussels, the eurosceptic government here is picking its battles. Rather than re-negotiating its relationship with the EU, it has decided to do business with China.

During his recent visit to the bel paese, President Xi Jinping agreed 29 deals worth €2.5 billion (£2.1 billion), as Italy became the first western country to sign up to China’s Silk Road investment plan. Critics see the “Belt and Road initiative” as a Beijing power grab, and an attempt to become a silent shareholder in countries stretching across Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Latin America and Africa by buying up vast swathes of infrastructure. But the Silk Road is also a network of trade routes linking the east and west which dates back to the first century BC.

Supporters of the Eurasia project, which it is whispered includes some influential figures in the Vatican, point out that China is a world power looking to exert soft power influence and that the silk road of antiquity saw different religions live peacefully alongside one another.

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