A seaport city of just over 200,000 residents in northeast Italy could play a significant geopolitical role in promoting Eurasian integration. The port of Trieste is only the 11th busiest in Europe by tonnage, but nonetheless is designed to become the western end of the Maritime Silk Road, a key section of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative to improve connectivity between China and Western Europe.
Zeno D’Agostino, president of the Port Network Authority of the Eastern Adriatic Sea, the public company that runs Trieste port and other facilities in the area, told Asia Times that the Chinese were ready to invest in the infrastructure. “They have been attracted by Trieste’s geographic position, strong connectivity with the rest of Europe and robust supply chain,” he said.
‘Italy is not Greece’
Italian Cabinet Secretary Giancarlo Giorgetti said recently that Chinese investments in Italy were welcome, but also made clear that his country would not sell out national assets. D’Agostino is on the same page. He pointed out that Chinese companies would not buy or control the port of Trieste, as happened with the terminal in Piraeus, the main port in Greece and, partially, with Hambantota port in Sri Lanka and Djibouti. “They will only acquire minority stakes in existing businesses,” he said.
Piraeus ‘not as competitive’
The Italians are confident that Trieste will supplant Piraeus as China’s maritime gateway to southern Europe, despite Beijing arguing that the Greek port has increased container traffic after its acquisition by China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) in 2016. There is a considerable share of trade exchanges between Asia and Europe at stake. According to the European Commission, 70% of today’s trade between the two regions, measured by value, goes by sea.
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