BEIJING (Reuters) – Despite Rome’s scepticism, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said cooperation with Italy under the Beijing-led Belt and Road initiative had been fruitful, with high-quality Italian products having entered “thousands of households” in China.
“The thousand-year friendship inherited from the ancient Silk Road has endured,” Wang told visiting Italian Deputy Prime Minister Antonio Tajani in a meeting on Monday.
“In the past five years, the trade volume between China and Italy has grown from $50 billion to nearly $80 billion, and Italy’s exports to China have increased by about 30%,” Wang said in a readout of the meeting from China’s foreign ministry released on Tuesday.
In 2019, Italy became the first major Western nation to join China’s Belt and Road, a global trade and infrastructure initiative modeled on the idea of the old Silk Road that had linked imperial China and the West millennia ago.
But Italy, the only Group of Seven power to have signed up since the trade and infrastructure initiative was launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping a decade ago, has expressed doubts over its membership in recent months.
Tajani said on Saturday before leaving for China that bilateral trade had not improved.
“The Silk Road did not bring the results we expected,” Tajani said. “We will have to evaluate, the parliament will have to decide whether or not to renew our participation.”
Rome has until December to formally withdraw from the accord, which expires in March 2024. Otherwise, it will be extended for another five years.
Any loss of the erstwhile terminus of the old Silk Road would be diplomatically embarrassing for China, which has expected to mark the achievements of the Belt and Road initiative at an international forum in Beijing in October.
China and Italy should adhere to the right way of getting along with each other through mutual respect, openness and cooperation, Wang told Tajani.
Wang stressed that in the face of “new situations and new opportunities”, China is willing to adhere to openness and win-win with both sides.
(Reporting by Shanghai newsroom, Liz Lee and Ryan Woo; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Michael Perry)