Chinese president signs trade deal with Italy despite United States pushback

Marco Green
Марта 24, 2019

Italy on Saturday became the first Group of Seven country to sign a "Belt and Road" memorandum, agreeing to cooperate in the Chinese-led initiative to build trade-promoting infrastructure across the planet.

In addition to the "Belt and Road" deal, Chinese and Italian businesses concluded around ten other trade agreements - these include projects in the steel, energy and gas industries.

However, the deal has irked Brussels and some pro-EU figures like French President Emmanuel Macron who see it as helping one of the bloc's key economic rivals.

The prime minister said he is looking forward to attending the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, adding that Italy welcomes Chinese enterprises to invest in Italy and realize mutual benefit and win-win outcomes.

Government representatives and officials from the two countries signed 19 other accords ranging from countering tax evasion to encouraging start-ups and boosting citrus fruit exports from Italy to China.

"China appreciates Italy's willingness to play a positive role in developing a healthy and stable China-Europe relationship, and its devotion in pushing forward the connectivity of Asia and Europe", Chinese President Xi told journalists after arriving in Rome on Friday.

Italy's populist government, anxious to lift the economy out of its third recession in a decade, dismissed calls from Washington to shun the BRI and gave Xi the sort of red-carpet welcome normally reserved for its closest allies.

There was not even universal backing for the BRI agreement within Italy's ruling coalition, with Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who heads the far-right League, warning against the risk of China "colonializing" Italian markets.

"Our goal with these accords is to start to rebalance an imbalance for which there is a lot of "Made in China" coming to Italy and too little "Made in Italy" that goes to China", Di Maio said.

The United States worries that it is created to strengthen China's military influence and could be used to spread technologies capable of spying on Western interests.

During their talks, Xi noted that the China-Italy relations are rooted in the history of the two countries' thousand-year-old exchanges, with strong public support. Macron, for example, said on Friday that relations with China must not be based primarily on trade.

Di Maio stressed that Italy remains firmly rooted in its alliance with the United States, NATO and its European partners, but said Italy must also look out for its own economic interests. European Union leaders in Brussels are preparing a strategy to counter the growing influence of China, which they describe as a "systemic rival".

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