During the Cold War, there was an “east” bloc and a “west” bloc and nations were defined by whether they were closer to Washington or Moscow. Now, nearly 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, rising tensions between the US and China are recreating a geopolitical dividing line. And countries are increasingly expected to make clear whether they stand with Washington or Beijing. The latest example of this came last week, with the news that Italy is close to becoming the first Group of Seven (G7) country to sign a memorandum of understanding endorsing China’s giant infrastructure project, known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Within hours, a White House spokesperson had criticised the initiative as “made by China, for China”, and suggested that it would bring no benefits to Italy. The Chinese foreign minister fired back, reminding the Americans that Italy is an independent nation. President Xi Jinping is planning to visit Italy in March to seal the deal. The tug of war over...

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