Sat, Mar 23, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Xi visits Italy to expand Belt and Road

AFP, ROME

Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) was yesterday to start a whistle-stop European tour in Rome amid growing Western unease over Italy joining the ever-expanding Asian giant’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is today to sign a memorandum of understanding with Xi for Italy to join the US$1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative, the first G7 member to do so, despite apparent divisions within the ruling coalition.

Xi on Thursday night arrived in Rome and was yesterday to meet Italian President Sergio Mattarella during a trip that will also take in parliament and the Colosseum.

About 1,000 extra police have been deployed around Rome for the state visit before Xi heads to Palermo, where his singer wife, Peng Liyuan (彭麗媛), reportedly wants to see the Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele opera house.

In what some perceived as a snub, far-right Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said that he would not attend today’s state dinner for Xi at Mattarella’s Quirinal Palace.

Salvini has said that Italy would be “no one’s colony” and urged caution about using telecom giant Huawei Technology’s next-generation 5G mobile technology, while Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi di Maio has been keener for Chinese partnerships.

The US has warned European allies that Huawei could use its 5G technology as a “back door” for spying, while China has lashed out at “immoral” attacks.

NATO member Italy’s plan to join China’s ambitious maritime, rail and road venture, which critics have warned mainly benefits Chinese firms, has raised eyebrows among Western allies and within Italy.

Rome is at risk of becoming “a sort of Chinese Trojan horse in Europe,” said Mariastella Gelmini of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party.

Debt-ridden Italy is technically in recession and keen to have more business with China.

“I think that any new thing needs to go through a development process,” Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Chao (王超) told journalists of the controversy in Italy.

Di Maio, of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, was yesterday to address a China-Italy business forum.

Xi’s visit comes one week after the EU released a 10-point plan outlining a shift to more assertive relations with Beijing, warning that China was a “rival” to the bloc, as well as its biggest trading partner.

Conte was expected to reassure European partners about the nonbinding agreement at an EU summit in Brussels before heading back to Rome for the signing.

France on Thursday announced that French President Emmanuel Macron would hold trade and climate talks on Tuesday next week with Xi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

The meeting comes ahead of a China-EU summit in Brussels next month, as the bloc struggles to forge Europe-wide China policies.

Xi heads to Monaco tomorrow and then on to France to cap his European tour.

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