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Backed by bloc, Italy, Sweden pushback against China gaining a foothold in Europe

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NEW DELHI: Major European countries, including Italy and Sweden, are pushing back against China’s attempts at controlling economies and gaining a strategic foothold in the continent.

Italy, China’s closest partner in the G-7 bloc, has said the memorandum of understanding with China on the latter’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was a mistake. Under President Xi Jinping, China is different from what it was in the past, it said.

“The memorandum of understanding on the silk routes with China was a mistake. Xi’s China is no longer what it used to be,” Vincenzo Amendola, Italian minister for European affairs, said on Monday.

Given the close ties between Italy and China, the statement assumes special importance. The bilateral ties have come under strain also because of the spread of coronavirus from Wuhan, said analysts.

The Italian PM did not meet the Chinese foreign minister during the latter’s visit to Italy recently. A few weeks ago, Italy agreed to support its European Union allies as the bloc toughened its stance on China. On that occasion Amendola said in a television interview that EU states have for too long failed “to make reciprocity a priority” with China.

“Italy is geared toward trade with everyone, but accords with China must today pass through a commitment of the 27, because foreign trade has to do with European sovereignty,” Amendola said in the interview. “The European Commission manages trade for everyone, so we think it’s fundamental that we work within the European framework.”

Italy had been gradually shifting towards China after its previous government joined the BRI infrastructure project in March 2019. The Chinese President presided over the signing of an MoU at the time, with a ceremony at a Renaissance-era villa in Rome. Chinese funded ports in Italy had raised widespread concerns that these may give China a strategic foothold in the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, Sweden has banned China’s Huawei and ZTE from its 5G network. Earlier, the UK had banned Huawei from 5G while France and Germany have limited Huawei’s operations.

Swedish regulators banned the use of telecommunications equipment from Huawei and ZTE in its 5G network ahead of the government’s spectrum auction scheduled for next month. The Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS) stated this week that the decision was taken following assessments by the Swedish armed forces and the Swedish Security Service.

European governments have been reviewing the role of Chinese companies in building their networks.

In July, the UK had ordered Huawei equipment to be purged from the country’s 5G network by 2027, becoming one of the first European countries to do so.

PTS said companies taking part in the auction must remove Huawei and ZTE gear from existing central functions by January 1, 2025. It defined central functions as equipment used to build the radio access network, the transmission network, the core network and the service.

Aggressive behaviour by Chinese diplomats in various European capitals has also been resisted by the respective governments.

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