Italy warmly em­braces Xi, vast in­fra­struc­ture project

The Buffalo News - - CONTINUED FROM THE COVER - By Ja­son Horowitz NEW YORK TIMES

ROME – A cavalry es­cort usu­ally re­served for roy­als. A tour of the Coli­seum and a visit to the an­cient Capi­to­line Hill. A per­for­mance by An­drea Bo­celli in a pres­i­den­tial palace that once housed popes.

The warm wel­come Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping of China re­ceived in Rome on Fri­day was that of an ex­alted ally – or as crit­ics say, a con­queror – as he be­gan a visit that will cul­mi­nate to­day with the sign­ing of Italy’s of­fi­cial agree­ment to par­tic­i­pate in China’s vast Belt and Road in­fra­struc­ture project.

In do­ing so, Italy will be­come the first mem­ber of the Group of 7 na­tions that have long dom­i­nated the global econ­omy to take part in the project, a sign of how a ris­ing China is re­shap­ing the world’s eco­nomic and geopo­lit­i­cal or­der.

“The an­cient Silk Road was a tool of knowl­edge among peo­ple and to share mu­tual dis­cov­er­ies,” Pres­i­dent Ser­gio Mattarella of Italy said on Fri­day morn­ing, stand­ing next to Xi at the Quiri­nal Palace. “The new one must also be a two-way street.”

Mattarella also urged the Chi­nese to help pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment and show “re­spect for the rules of the mar­ket,” some­thing many crit­ics of China have said it fla­grantly ig­nores.

Xi thanked Italy for its “deep friend­ship” and spoke about the im­por­tance of “re­vi­tal­iz­ing the an­cient Silk Road,” strength­en­ing ties and de­vel­op­ing a “se­ries of con­crete projects” to­gether. He as­sured the Ital­ians, who are des­per­ate to open Chi­nese mar­kets to Ital­ian goods, that he wanted a “com­mer­cial ex­change that goes both ways and a flow of in­vest­ments that goes both ways.”

The tight­en­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween China and Italy has wor­ried U.S. of­fi­cials, who have tried and failed to stop the deal, ex­press­ing con­cern that China’s eco­nomic ex­pan­sion is a pre­cur­sor to military and po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions.

Lead­ers of the Euro­pean Union in Brus­sels have also raised fears that Italy – sad­dled by debt and tempted by prom­ises – could fall prey to a Chi­nese di­vide-and-con­quer strat­egy.

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