China touts ‘Belt and Road’ to Italy amid growing doubts in Rome

China’s Wang Yi hails ‘thousand-year friendship’ with Italy as Rome weighs exit from infrastructure drive.

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China is seeking to persuade Italy not to exit Beijing's signature Belt and Road Initiative [File: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China via AP]

China has insisted its Belt and Road initiative has “borne fruit” in Italy amid growing expectations Rome will exit Beijing’s signature infrastructure drive.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told visiting Italian Deputy Prime Minister Antonio Tajani that growing cooperation between the countries has led to Italian products entering thousands of Chinese households.

“The thousand-year friendship inherited from the ancient Silk Road has endured,” Wang said on Monday during a meeting with Tajani.

Wang said bilateral trade grew from $50bn to nearly $80bn and Italy’s exports to China increased by about 30 percent during the past five years.

“China and Italy should adhere to the right way of getting along with each other,” Wang said.

Tajani said Italy supported “frank, open dialogue on principles and rights,” including at the European Union level, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

Italy is the only Group of Seven (G7) economy to have signed onto the Belt and Road Initiative, but has signalled growing unease with the agreement in recent months.

Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto in July described then-premier Giuseppe Conte’s decision to join the initiative in 2019 as an “atrocious act” that had done little to boost Italian exports while flooding the country with Chinese imports.

The Belt and Road plan proposes massive investments in infrastructure such as roads, bridges and ports to recreate the ancient Silk Road trade routes linking Europe and Asia.

Critics have cast the scheme as a vehicle for Beijing to expand its geopolitical influence, including by saddling poorer countries with unsustainable debts.

Italy’s membership of the scheme is set to automatically renew in March next year unless Rome requests its cancellation by December.

Ahead of his trip to China, Tajani said on Saturday the deal “did not bring the results we expected”.

“We will have to evaluate, the parliament will have to decide whether or not to renew our participation,” he said.

Tajani’s trip to China follows a series of recent visits by Western leaders, including United States Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and United Kingdom Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies