Becoming the first of the world’s Group of Seven major economies to align itself with Beijing on its “Belt and Road” initiative, Italy and China have signed a memorandum of understanding to deepen economic ties.
The move, reported by AP Saturday, could see an uptick in Italian exports to China.
China’s President Xi Jinping met with Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte in Rome to sign the agreement’s 29 different protocols. The program will strive to provide more connectedness between China, Africa and Europe using a system of bridges, ports and power plants.
Following the signing, Italy’s minister of economic development, Luigi di Maio, told reporters the initiative will help boost the country’s faltering economy by bolstering Italian businesses. Citing a relationship that has historically been less than symbiotic, di Maio said Italy can now expect to see “a substantial… increase of exports” to China. Beijing has touted the program as an opportunity to help some of the world’s struggling economies.
The deal also gives China access to Western Europe, along with unprecedented influence. Some Italian officials shied away from the deal’s signing as a show of resistance. Matteo Salvini, deputy prime minister and interior minister, skipped the ceremonies with the Chinese delegation. Meanwhile, with consternation over ceding advantages to Chinese companies, EU leaders in Brussels are working to prepare a strategy to counter China’s growing influence.
The deal’s comprehensive accords include “cooperation between banks, between a Chinese construction company and Italian ports, and the export of Italian fruit to China,” according to the AP. The countries hope to work together in the fields of science, technology and media as relations deepen. Minister di Maio told reporters the value of Saturday’s signed initiatives amounts to 2.5 billion euros ($2.8 billion) and has the potential to increase to 20 billion euros ($22.6 billion).
Saturday’s signing also puts pressure on the already tense relationship between China and the U.S. as the trade war wears on. Di Maio insists that relations between Italy and its Western allies like the U.S. and NATO won’t change, however. The country is simply now looking out for its own economic interests, he said.
China’s official stance on the Belt and Road program is that it’s purely an economic driver without political motivation, the AP reported.