The port in the small Italian city of Vado Ligure is the latest incarnation of strengthened ties between China and Europe.
With stakes co-held by a Netherlands-headquartered company and two Chinese partners, the Vado Gateway terminal upon completion in December will be able to accommodate the world’s largest container ships, while cutting down on costs and time for cargo entering and leaving the port.
Regarded as an example of cooperation between European and Chinese businesses, the port is expected to bolster the local economy, create more jobs and further open the northwestern Italian region to outside markets.
As the first member of the Group of Seven to join the Belt and Road Initiative, Italy has come to benefit from aligning its plan to develop its northern ports and the InvestItalia program with the China-proposed initiative, which seeks to improve interconnectivity between Asia, Europe, Africa and beyond.
Last year, the collapse of the Morandi bridge in the north Italian city of Genoa, not far from Vado Ligure, sent at least 30 cars into the riverbed and train tracks 45 meters (130 feet) below, killing dozens of people.
Such a tragedy underlines the urgency for Italy to upgrade its infrastructure, some of which is in desperate need of repair. In Vado Ligure, locals describe the upgrade as the largest of its kind in years.
Better infrastructure like ports, roads and bridges could help bring countries closer and strengthen ties, undergirding foundations for further cooperation.
“If we are able to update and upgrade our road and rail infrastructure, we can be the Chinese door to Central Europe,” Gian Enzo Duci, professor at the University of Genoa and president of Federagenti, the Italian National Federation of Ship Brokers & Agents, said.
In response to some claims that China’s investment in European infrastructure would somehow pose geopolitical challenges, Duci said such fears are unfounded.
“We still have military presence of the Unites States in our country, why should we be scared of the economic presence of Chinese interest?” one Italian shipping expert said bluntly.
While the resurgence of protectionism and unilateralism has cast a lingering shadow on global commerce, the economic and trade links between China and Europe, two defenders of multilateralism, have continuously expanded over the years.
The European Union (EU) has been China’s largest trading partner for more a decade while the Asian country is the bloc’s second largest trading partner. In 2018, China-EU trade volume hit a record high, exceeding 682 billion U.S. dollars.
With cooperation and exchanges between China and Europe as strong as ever, more European cities – big or small, rich or poor – stand to benefit. Vado Ligure is a case in point.