On March 21st, Xi Jinping landed in Rome together with his wife, Peng Liyuan. Italy was the first stopover of a European tour which also included Monaco and France, where Xi met with Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker.
This was the first visit by a Chinese president to Italy since Hu Jintao attended a G8 summit in July 2009. Xi spent most of his time in Rome, but also paid a brief visit to Palermo, in Sicily – although the reason of this latter detour is not very clear.
In the Italian capital, Xi met with the president Mattarella and with the prime minister Conte to sign the Memorandum of Understanding regarding the Belt and Road Initiative. Italy is the first G7 country to undersign such an agreement: the memorandum, although non-binding, mainly focuses on economic aspects.
The discussed topics include transports and infrastructures, free trade and investments, financial cooperation, interpersonal relationships and cooperation for sustainable development. Italy is wishing to take some action for its high trade deficit, due to the huge amount of goods imported from China (which has been running a trade surplus for several years).
The memorandum will pave the way for several agreements between Italian and Chinese private and institutional firms that cover the most diverse areas: citrus fruit export from Italy to China, promotion of the Italian culture on the Chinese tourism market, protection of the cultural goods from theft and illicit trade, scientific cooperation, meat trade, space missions and many more.
Although the signing of the memorandum has generated some criticism both internal to the Italian government and in the international and European scene, the controversy seems to have been softened by Mattarella, who had a private meeting with Xi. The contents of their conversation have not been disclosed officially, but there have been some leaks: it seems that Mattarella reaffirmed the importance of civil and political rights for Italy and the EU, together with the collocation of Italy in the European group and the friendship with the USA.
by Francesca Colombi