Silk Road Headlines_23rd August, 2019

San Marino wants to join China’s BRI

The Republic of San Marino is a tiny country of 33.562 inhabitants, completely surrounded by Italy, and located on the norteastern side of the Apennine Mountains. It may be small in size but it is big in money, with a GDP per capita of almost $45,000.

Relations with China are fast improving. Since the financial crisis, China has been buying San Marino government bonds, aimed at supporting the country’s troubled banking sector. The countries also have a very friendly visa-policies towards each other to support tourism and business.

Chinese citizens can visit San Marino totally visa-free and citizens of San Marino can visit China visa-free for 90 days. This is very rare. Only two other countries in Europe offer this: Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. In a similar way, China offers 90-days visa-free to only one other country: Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But San Marino wants more. They want to become a “bridgehead” for China in Europe, with a focus on the financial sector. Therefore, San Marino has formally announced it wants to be part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) [San Marino hopes to strengthen BRI cooperation with China].

The request was made by Nicola Selva and Michele Muratori, Captains Regent of San Marino, during a visit to San Marino on August 5 by newly appointed Chinese ambassador Li Junhua (to Italy and San Marino, based in Rome). Captains Regent are San Marino’s unique dual-heads of state, serving for just six months.

San Marino said it was ready to sign a memorandum of understanding on BRI, and  expressed support for BRI in general. China did not immediately commit publicly, but it seems unlikely that San Marino would make such a request without ongoing negotiations in the background. The two countries also discussed a tax-treaty.

In the meantime, more is happening. Earlier this month, a 50-pax Chinese delegation visited San Marino to promote tourism and cultural exchanges. They also prepared the celebration of 70-years PRC on October 1. China will ship over folk groups and government officials.

The celebrations will be organized by the Associazione San Marino – Cina, the local Chinese club. This club appears to be very active, offering the usual: scholarships in China, Chinese classes, and courses in Chinese medicine. The club is closely related to the Istituto Confucio San Marino, financed by China and based inside the University of San Marino.

In infrastructure, China’s ZTE is building San Marino’s new cellular network and a new fibre-optic internet networks. The deal involves a training center and a R&D facility. There is even some train-talk: in 2015 countries discussed the restoration and expansion of the historic 35 kilometer Rimini-San Marino railway line, connecting Federico Fellini International Airport in Italy with San Marino. The proposal was made by the Associazione San Marino – Cina, in partnership with Chinese state-owned railway maker CRRC and state-owned investment company CIECI. A feasibility study is underway.

All in all, San Marino seems perfectly ready to become China’s next BRI base in Western Europe, albeit a rather small one.

Tycho de Feijter