Luigi Di Maio (center), deputy prime minister of Italy, during a visit to China last year. Photo: AFP

It was reported on Thursday that, after its decision to endorse China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Italy is looking at borrowing from the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

The move is controversial not just among Italy’s fellow Group of Seven and European Union member countries, but also domestically, within Rome.

But as European economies slow (Italy’s more than others’), the necessity of joining China’s international infrastructure push is poised to outweigh fears of it being a “Trojan horse” of Beijing’s influence.

“Now I think with the EU economy, particularly Italy, has been slowing down, so I think economic alliance with China would be really great for the local economy and the local politics,” Wang Huiyao, the founder and president of the Beijing-based Center for China and Globalization, told Asia Times.

He added that if Italy endorses of the initiative, which is expected to happen officially during a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Rome next week, it would “break the ice.”

“Just like AIIB where the first to sign on was the UK and then 97 members [joined) that.”

The United States had initially pressured allies in Europe and Asia not to join the infrastructure investment bank. It didn’t work, and after Britain’s decision to join the AIIB, other major allies of the US followed suit.

Wang also noted that Japan and France have signed agreements with China in tacit support of the BRI, despite reluctance to formally sign on to the effort in name.

“Other countries have already signed something similar. Japan, China signed a third-country memorandum. And France has that.… It’s all Belt and Road countries. They are just shying away from saying the word Belt and Road,” he said.

“The potential involvement of the AIIB in the BRI in Italy is a game changer,” one EU diplomat in Brussels said, according to the Financial Times. “Without the AIIB’s involvement in lending to projects, it would be difficult for the BRI to fly in a key EU member state.”

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Friday that the memorandum on the BRI “will be signed,” but stressed that it was “non-binding.”

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