ITALY on Saturday signed a “non-binding” protocol with China to take part in Beijing’s new “Silk Road” of transport and trade links stretching from Asia to Europe.
In doing so, Italy became the first G7 country to sign up for the massive project, which has sparked unease in the US and the EU as China aspires to a greater world role.
Visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte both attended a ceremony for the signing of 29 memorandum of understanding, which Italian media said were worth €5.0-7.0 billion ($5.6 to 8.0 billion).
Also signing the accords were the chairman of China’s chairman National Development Commission He Lifeng and Italian deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio, who also holds the economic development portfolio.
After a brief meeting with Conte, Xi and his wife Peng Liyan flew to Palermo, Sicily for a private visit to the Palazzo dei Normanni.
Italian financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore said the value of the Chinese investments could rise to €20 billion but would for now be limited to the strategic ports of Genoa and Trieste.
Italy has rolled out the red carpet for Xi, who on Friday sought to allay Western unease over his transformational infrastructure initiative by stressing the $1 trillion project’s mutual benefits.
Italian firms to benefit include the Ansaldo group, which wins a contract for making turbines, and the Danieli group, which lands a €1.1 billion deal to build an iron and steel plant in Azerbaijan.
The accords also foresee the opening up of the Chinese market for Italian oranges as well as a partnership for Chinese tourism giant Ctrip, notably with Rome’s airports.