ROME – Chinese President Xi Jinping met his Italian counterpart, Sergio Matterella, on Friday to boost commercial ties with an infrastructure and development initiative that will connect Asia to Europe and Africa.
Xi and Matterella met to formalize an agreement that will cement future trade and development collaborations as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which the Chinese government is leading and aims to link 152 countries in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
“The Chinese side wants (to) trade in both directions and a flow of investment in both directions,” Xi said at a press conference at the 16th century Quirinal Palace in Rome.
“China and Italy are two important world forces to safeguard peace and promote development,” he added. “China wants to work with Italy to revive the spirit of fairness, mutual respect and justice.”
The Italian government, which sees the euroskeptic Five Star Movement ruling alongside the far-right Lega Party, was set to pen a memorandum on Saturday to officially join the initiative, which China has promoted as a modern-day Silk Road trade route.
“Cooperation between Italy and China will be confirmed during the much-welcomed visit of President Xi with trade agreements,” Matterella said.
“The signing of the Italy-China memorandum is a sign of the attention devoted to a framework for an increase in cooperation between Italian businesses and Chinese businesses,” he added.
The trans-continental project would also see an exchange of ideas and knowledge, he continued.
Even though the Italian government has embraced BRI, there were some sticking points, in particular, China’s track record on human rights.
“In light of Italy’s mandate on the UN Human Rights Council, I would like to hope that constructive dialogue can continue on such important issues at the session of the EU-China dialogue on human rights that will take place in Brussels following the one last July in Beijing,” Mattarella said.
As ties between the two nations solidify, next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the initiation of diplomatic ties between them, something that will be commemorated as a year of cultural exchange and tourism.
Xi is visiting Italy as part of a wider tour to promote the BRI project.
The Chinese head of state is set to visit France, which will coincide with the 55th anniversary of their diplomatic relationship, and Monaco where he will meet Prince Albert II to expand on bilateral relations.
BRI includes one-third of world trade and GDP and more than 60 percent of the world’s population, according to the World Bank.
It consists of two major economic corridors known as the “Silk Road Economic Belt,” connecting China to Central and South Asia and Europe, and the “New Maritime Silk Road,” linking China to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.
The project, which was first announced in 2013, is still taking shape but could extend to all countries in the world through the creation of alternative commercial routes.
The planned completion date is 2046.