Chinese President Xi Jinping’s infrastructure project was supposed to connect Asia, Africa and Europe through a network of railways and trade deals, boosting China’s global influence. A decade later, she came up against a diplomatic wall on the European border.
The absence of European leaders at this week’s Belt and Road Forum in Beijing highlighted the growing skepticism among Western democracies of what Xi once described as the “project of the century “. Instead of making friends and scoring political points across Europe, the Chinese leader appears to have reformed the initiative into a club of emerging economies known as the Global South, capable of challenging the world order led by the United States.
Seven EU countries – Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Hungary – sent their leaders to the forum in 2019, the last time the event took place. Four years later, only the Hungarian Viktor Orban made the trip to Beijing. Italy, the sole member of the Group of Seven, has told China it plans to withdraw completely from the investment deal.