BEIJING – Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to visit Italy, Monaco and France to consolidate ties between China and Europe and strengthen trade partnerships and international affairs, Chinese authorities said on Wednesday.
Invited by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, French President Emmanuel Macron and Prince Albert II of Monaco, Xi will visit the three countries between March 21 and March 26.
“China-EU relations is enjoying a very sound and quality development, and the momentum is very good with frequent high level exchanges,” said Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Chao, in a press conference on Wednesday.
Wang added that the visit will guide the future of bilateral trade – which stood at $682 billion last year – and strengthen ties between the two sides.
The EU had invested $10.4 billion in China last year, which was a 25 percent increase.
Xi’s visit to Italy, which will be the first in ten years by a Chinese president, was confirmed by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
Xi is expected to hold discussions with the Italian side on bilateral infrastructural deals under the China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
“We appreciate the active dynamism of the Italian side in participating in it. China is ready to work with the Italian side to promote practical cooperation for win-win results,” said Wang.
Wang said that it was natural for Italy to have doubts before they decide to join the initiative.
“In Italy there are still some debates, even questions, but I believe it is natural because it takes time for any newborn to grow up, therefore during the process of developing the BR cooperation it is inevitable we might encounter some misunderstanding or even doubts,” he added.
If Italy signs the agreement, it will become the first country of the group of seven – heavily industrialized countries – to support the initiative, which seeks to finance and construct infrastructures in more than 80 countries with the objective of connecting Beijing with its Asian neighbors and the rest of the continents.
However, the initiative is viewed with caution by the United States and some of EU members, who fear that this could be a strategy to benefit Chinese companies.
During his visit to Italy, Xi will meet with President Mattarella and Prime Minister Conte along with Senate Speaker Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati and Lower House Speaker Roberto Fico, and visit the Palermo city.
Wang did not confirm if Xi would be meeting Pope Francis, although he did refer to a provisional agreement between the Vatican and China – which have not had diplomatic relations for more than half a century – last September on the nomination of bishops, which according to China was “a major achievement for bilateral relations.”
During his visit to Monaco, Xi will hold talks with Prince Albert II of Monaco and in France he is set to meet with his counterpart Macron, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and spokespeople of the Senate and National Assembly.
Speaking about the France visit, which will be a first one by a Chinese President in the last five years, Wang said that the visit will aim to take the bilateral relationship to a new phase to mark the 55th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral ties.
“The two sides had elevated their partnership with solid development thanks to high level exchanges, he said.
He further added that that two countries maintained close communication on important affairs, including, “upholding multilateralism, improving global governance, climate change, etc.”
Wang also added that China and France had signed cooperation agreements in the field of energy, transport, agriculture, science and technology, finance and culture.