Italy was the first European country to be hit by the COVID-19 pandemic last year, and the following national shutdown crippled its economy. Rome called on the EU for assistance, particularly as personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies ran dangerously low, but the bloc was slow to respond at a time when Italy was in desperate need. Instead, it was Beijing who answered Italy’s pleas and shipped 30 tonnes of medical equipment over to help fight the virus while the country’s hospitals were overwhelmed.
Italy’s foreign minister Luigi Di Maio is also pro-China, and declared in August last year that Beijing was a key strategic partner — pulling the two nations even closer together in the midst of the pandemic.
However, there is a concern Italy could be doing this at a cost to its relationship with the rest of the EU and the US.
Mr Di Maio was subsequently not invited to co-sign an opinion piece in The Washington Post last November, where his French and German counterparts declared the US and EU should have a coordinated approach to China.
Italian PM Mario Draghi, China's President Xi Jinping and the EU's Ursula von der Leyen (Image: Getty/PA)
Italy's Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in August 2020 (Image: PA images)
She said Italy intends to enjoy benefits from an alliance with the US, which will provide military support.
However, she claimed the nation always wants an economic tie to China, the US' rival.
She said it intends to strengthen its commitments with the eastern superpower, even if that “creates uncertainty” with Washington, and potentially the rest of the EU.
Dr Casarini noted: “Italy’s forging closer ties with China has immediate implications for transatlantic trade relations.”
Speaking to The Diplomat, she said: “China is now increasingly perceived by some Italian politicians, in particular within the centre-left Democratic Party and the Movement 5 Stars (the two political forces supporting the current coalition government in Rome) as a potential saviour, should Italy’s debt fall under speculative attacks.”
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This is an increase of nearly €160billion (£138bn) when compared to the nation’s debt at the end of 2019.
It spent an estimated €100billion (£89bn) to reduce the impact of the pandemic.
The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) shrunk by an estimated 8.8 percent last year.
Italy is also one of the world’s most indebted nations and has the