Honors Theses

Date of Award

Spring 5-1-2021

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis

Department

Croft Institute for International Studies

First Advisor

Joshua Howard

Second Advisor

William Schenck

Third Advisor

Gang Guo

Relational Format

Dissertation/Thesis

Abstract

In March of 2019, during a visit from Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Rome, Italy became the first G7 country to sign on to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), generating an intense reaction from allies. The non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) included 29 deals, a number of which were signed between private Italian and Chinese companies on the sidelines of Xi’s visit. One of the most important of these deals was between the Chinese SOE China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) and the Trieste Port Authority. The deal promised increased cooperation and investment in a number of areas. Optimists on both sides claimed it marked the start of Trieste’s path towards becoming the “Singapore of the Adriatic.” Critics warned that the Chinese would overrun Trieste and gradually make Italy dependent on Beijing through predatory lending, or worse, seize control of strategic Italian assets. Almost two years later, the reality is far from both of these extremes. Two of the major questions that this research aims to answer are: What were the different parties’ motivations for signing the deal; and, using Trieste as a case study, what is Beijing’s goal in Italy?

This research suggests that there was a myriad of parties involved, with a range of different motivations. The two most visible actors, the Chinese and Italian governments, both sought political and economic gains. As of late 2020, only Beijing appears to have gained anything of substance from the deal in the form of increased credibility for the BRI. Gaining this credibility appears to have been Beijing’s short-term goal, considering deals signed with the Port of Trieste have mostly stalled. Beijing’s long-term goals in Italy reflect China’s foreign policy goals more broadly, which revolve around the achievement of great power status.

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