Italy warmly embraces Xi, vast infrastructure project
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.