ROME – Italy resisted the pleas and warnings of its allies in the European Union and the US on Saturday, when it officially joined the Chinese Silk Road with a signing agreement with China's President Xi Jinping, the geopolitical balances and the populist Italians The willingness of the government to break with its traditional partners.
The agreement will "build a better relationship between China and Italy," Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said.
Italy was the first of the seven countries that once dominated The global economy is to participate in China's "One Belt One Road" project, which makes huge investments in infrastructure to move Chinese goods and resources throughout Asia, Africa and Europe.
Against the backdrop of Italian, Chinese and European flags, numerous Chinese and Italian ministers and entrepreneurs signed separate agreements at Villa Madama 29. The culmination of Mr. Xi's visit to Rome, where he was greeted as a valued ally and, as the critics said, a conqueror.
The Memorandum of Understanding reached on Saturday provides for a framework agreement for billions of euros in deals between Italy and Rome Companies supported by the Chinese states. However, analysts said political symbolism was more important as it signaled a decline in American influence, an emerging China and tensions between the founding partners of the European Union.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, Italy's most powerful politician, absent-mindedly attended the signing ceremony. In the weeks leading up to the deal, he publicly took a more American-oriented and skeptical attitude to the deal, though he did not try to stop it. Once the deal was over, he smiled again at the idea that China was a "free market," but said the deal was satisfied as long as he served the Italian interests.
On the other hand, his coalition partner Luigi Di Maio was the leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, who campaigned for the deal and made several visits to China in recent months. On Saturday, he beamed at Villa Madama as he signed the first various agreements with Chinese partners, including those expressly declaring Italy's participation in new economic and maritime Silk Roads.
"Like someone in the United States & # 39; america first & # 39; said? Mr Di Maio said: "I keep repeating" Italy first "in trade relations.
The Chinese leader signed the contract by shaking his hand before flying to the Sicilian capital Palermo, hoping to benefit from Chinese investment, tourism and orange exports to China.
Mr. Xi, who was celebrated by the Italians with a state dinner and a cavalry escort, is likely to be greeted on Sunday during a visit to Nice in France, probably less festive. German President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and representatives of the European Union will meet there and present a united front against what they consider China's aggressive and disturbing economic expansion into Europe.
Last week, when Mr. Xi met with Italian executives, Mr. Macron announced to end the "period of European naivety" regarding China and tried to strengthen the rules for protecting strategic economic sectors. They insisted on more reciprocity and transparency from China and tried to convince Mr. Conte that he had made a critical mistake when joining the One Belt One Road project.
Italy, burdened with the debt crisis, hopes to catch up with the weakening economy by exporting goods to China and calling for more Chinese investment.
Opponents of the project in the Trump administration and in the European Union worry, however, that Italy has become a Trojan horse, allowing China's economic – and possibly military and political – expansion into the heart of Europe.
The Italians say their allies are exaggerating.
Michele Geraci, the Italian chief negotiator of the agreement and a Undersecretary for Economic Development, said Italy would avoid China's debt traps and that its laws prevent foreigners taking control of their ports, as China has done in Greek Piraeus. He also argued that Italy's European partners, who trade billions of dollars each year with China, have already taken them.
"China uses the European Union as 28 Trojan doors," he said, referring to the number of members states in the block. Italy has strengthened its legal powers to repel Chinese predatory takeovers, particularly in the areas of national security.
"We are the country in Europe and probably the world least likely to fear a Trojan effect," Mr. Geraci added, having lived in China for a decade: "I know China very well, and we are able to recognize risks better than others. "
Even government critics argued that the agreement gave Italy a chance to catch up with Germany and France, which had far more to do with China than Italy.
"It's a positive thing," said former Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who attended the state dinner for Mr. Xi on Friday night. "It's a competition between the countries of Europe."
China also sees positive opportunities in the Italian ports, which are connected to the railways that lead to the center of Central Europe. But that is not new: the difference is now the willingness of the Italians to let them in. Zeno D & # 39; Agostino, the president of the Port Authority of Trieste, who signed one of the agreements in Rome on Saturday, said It was only natural that Italians would look to China because the Trump government got out of the world retired.
China opened "because it feels strong," and a port had to do business with those involved in the world.