Simone Billi

deputato eletto nella Circoscrizione Estero-Europa

Italy for a free and open Indo-Pacific

The following is the speech delivered by Simone Billi, member of the Italian Parliament, at the conference ‘The Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ held at the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies, University of Oxford, on March 14, 2024.

The Indo-Pacific has emerged as a region of significant strategic importance worldwide. Consider these compelling statistics: approximately two-thirds of the global population, two-thirds of the world’s GDP, and two-thirds of international maritime trade are concentrated in this area. Additionally, it hosts natural resources and boasts some of the fastest-growing economies in the world.
Recognizing this, the Italian Parliament has taken a historic step by establishing a Permanent Committee on the Indo-Pacific. Chaired by the Honorable Paolo Formentini, this committee operates within the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Italian Parliament, led by the Honorable Giulio Tremonti. Currently, an official investigation focused on this geographical region is underway, with the primary goal of raising awareness within our Parliament.
The United States also recognizes the importance of the Indo-Pacific, dating back nearly two decades. At that time, the US initiated a strategic shift, moving away from the Persian Gulf to focus on the Indo-Pacific. Do you recall Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” during the 2010s?
While the reasons behind this disengagement are complex, the growth and increasing significance of the Indo-Pacific remain robust. Today, President Biden’s “Wider Maritime Asia Action Plan” follows the strategy of both Trump’s and Obama’s previous US administrations.
However, there are notable differences between these strategies. For instance, consider recent statements by candidate Trump, urging NATO countries to allocate 2% of their GDP for military spending. While this move is undoubtedly influenced by electoral considerations, Trump’s previous term saw an increase in US military spending due to redirected funds that were initially allocated for foreign aid.
Should Trump emerge victorious in the US elections, the focus may shift toward a division of responsibilities: the European Union would take greater ownership of its own security, while the US directs more attention toward China and the Indo-Pacific.
Also consider that the aggregate military spending of the EU and European countries within NATO exceeds that of China. This implies that, first and foremost, we (as EU countries) need to spend more effectively, not necessarily more.
Despite their historical influence in the Indo-Pacific, Western nations face challenges. Why? Because these countries sometimes have divergent interests and are not always able to act as a unified team. Additionally, we grapple with involvement in two ongoing conflicts—Ukraine and Israel. Furthermore, our ability to fully leverage our soft power is not always guaranteed.
Moreover, both EU countries and the US are navigating an election year. In contrast, China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific is driven by security cooperation, infrastructure development, and bilateral agreements. Notably, China’s Communist Party, in power since 1949, ensures remarkable political stability. This stability empowers China to strategically plan long-term programs and foreign policy initiatives focused on infrastructure, safety, and technology. Consequently, Western countries must develop stronger, equally forward-thinking strategies to navigate this complex geopolitical landscape.
However, China is also pursuing territorial claims on Taiwan. In brief, let’s consider China’s GDP trajectory: it experienced double-digit growth in past decades but has now settled around 5%. Forecasts for the next decades project a range of 2-3%. As China’s GDP wanes, its ability to exert influence over Taiwan faces increasing challenges.
Moreover, a true global power cannot rely solely on economic and commercial prowess. Consequently, China may seek to demonstrate its military strength on the world stage.
Another critical aspect revolves around the personal ambitions of President Xi Jinping. Unlike his predecessors who oversaw double-digit GDP growth, Xi Jinping faces a different landscape. To secure his place in history, he might harbor the ambition of reunifying “one China.”
Lastly, let’s discuss the concept of “freedom to navigate.” The Red Sea serves as a vital route for products from the Indo-Pacific to EU countries. In contrast, the USA is less affected by such scenarios.
In conclusion, Italy remains committed to collaborating with partner countries, addressing challenges, and seizing opportunities for a free, open, prosperous, and peaceful Indo-Pacific region.

Ti è piaciuto questo articolo? Condividilo sui tuoi social, grazie!