Europe News

After Italy, Malta says it's considering joining China's Belt and Road investment scheme

Key Points
  • Earlier this month, Italy signaled its interest in joining China's Belt and Road infrastructure investment initiative.
  • The White House has previously said Italy's intention to potentially join with Beijing on the scheme could hurt its international reputation, according to the Financial Times.
Edward Scicluna, Malta's finance minister.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Another European country is weighing the possibility of joining China's international infrastructure investment plan.

Malta, a small country in the Mediterranean that's part of the European Union, has indicated there's a possibility that it could join China's Belt and Road Initiative. In an exclusive interview, Edward Scicluna, the country's finance minister, said that "certain prejudices" should not come in the way of good business.

"One has to be wary of any country, especially with political ambitions or any sort of ambitions, but that's life," Scicluna told CNBC in Brussels.

The Belt and Road scheme is meant to create a vast global network of land, sea and digital connections linking China with Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. Critics say the unprecedented infrastructure plan will favor Chinese firms, boost Beijing's international influence and force developing nations to take on high debt burdens.

What is the Belt and Road Initiative?
What is the Belt and Road Initiative?

"You have to be careful, but it doesn't mean you say no to any business, because of certain prejudices, or this, or that, or because someone is pressuring you. For a country to survive and to be competitive, especially a small country, we need to have diversification," Scicluna said.

Earlier this month, Italy — the euro zone's third-largest economy — signaled its interest in joining the Chinese plan. Other European countries, namely Greece and Portugal, have also been supportive of Beijing's efforts.

But there's much less support for Beijing's global investment push in the U.S. The White House has previously said Italy's potential involvement in the BRI could hurt its international reputation, according to the Financial Times.

"I have heard the alarm being raised from the United States," Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi di Maio said Sunday. "Let it be clear that, if we are looking at the Silk Road towards China for our exports, it is not to strike a political deal with China, but only to help our companies," he said, according to Reuters.

Speaking to CNBC, Malta's finance chief said the issue of the BRI is still quite new and "very sensitive."

"One should not invite a fight, definitely not ... But on the other hand, as a region we are sovereign, we have our own interests and we should look at that first."

China can be a 'partner' and a 'problem'

Pierre Moscovici, the EU's commissioner for economic and financial affairs, told CNBC that Italy's priority should be improving its industrial capacity.

"The EU is not a federal state — our member states can do their own policy, whatever they want — but I think that China is as well an asset, a partner; it can also be a problem if it is too aggressive," Moscovici told CNBC on Tuesday.

"But, on Italy, my reflection would be a bit different, this country must solidify its industrial basis ... must reinforce its own competitiveness."