For decades, Italy felt the brunt of the Chinese economic juggernaut that the United States argues poses a threat to the financial and political future of the West. China’s government-backed manufacturers, operating on a much larger scale with much cheaper costs, devoured small Italian companies producing machinery, textiles and pharmaceuticals. Chinese knockoffs infuriated its high-fashion brands.
But this month, as the United States continued to engage in a trade standoff with China, and leaders of the European Union banded together to demand an end to unfair Chinese business practices, Italy took another route — China’s new Silk Road. In a move that signaled geopolitical shifts from West to East, Italy broke with its European and American allies during last week’s visit by President Xi Jinping of China, and became the first member of the Group of 7 major economies to officially sign up to China’s vast new One Belt One Road global infrastructure project.