The next summit for China’s grandiose Belt and Road Initiative, beginning on Thursday in Beijing, will host one especially welcome guest: Italy.
Washington pressured Rome, a proud member of the G7, to steer clear of Beijing’s global infrastructure-building program, warning that Italy’s participation “lends legitimacy to China’s predatory approach to investment and will bring no benefits to the Italian people.” The plea fell on deaf ears: Not only did Rome sign on to Belt and Road in March, no less a figure than the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, will attend this week’s gathering.
Italy’s snub may appear to be yet another sign that American power is on the wane while China’s is on the rise. Score: China 1, United States 0. But Italy’s decision is even more an indication of how such thinking has become dangerously out of date in the modern world order. While Washington still often perceives foreign policy in us-against-them terms, much of the rest of the world no longer does. That’s why in its attempts to contain China, the U.S. is discovering, to its dismay, that its allies aren’t always on board.
“No one wants to choose sides,” Parag Khanna, founder of the strategic advisory firm FutureMap and author of the book The Future Is Asian, told me. “We live in a multipolar system. No smart country sides with only one power. Instead they play all the powers off each other to derive maximum benefit for themselves.”