Chinese President Xi Jinping is in Rome where he is expected to sign an agreement that would make Italy the largest economy so far to back Beijing’s massive infrastructure project, known as the “Belt and Road” initiative.
The visit is the first by a Chinese president to Italy in 10 years, and the Italian government is rolling out the red carpet as it did for US President Donald Trump in 2017.
Most of Rome’s historic center will be considered a “red zone,” a tightly secured area with limited access for the city’s residents, to allow the movement of the 200-strong Chinese delegation accompanying the President.
Private tours of historical museums and other tourist landmarks have been organized for Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan.
Opera singer Andrea Bocelli will perform for the couple at a state dinner hosted by Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the Presidential Palace, a former residence of Popes.
The Belt and Road deal would see Beijing investing in Italian ports where Chinese goods would be imported into Europe. Some goods would also be manufactured in Italy to meet EU standards, and transported by rail to other EU countries.
Rome, in exchange, would see financial investment and the opening-up of markets for Italian products in China. Another possible agreement would be Chinese tech company Huawei operating superfast 5G networks in Italy.
The United States last month warned European countries that using technology from Huawei could hurt their relationship with Washington.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States has an obligation to alert other governments to the risks of building networks with equipment from the Chinese telecommunications giant.
The deal that China and Italy are expected to sign has also been criticized by some inside the coalition Italian government. Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party, has said if the deal is “about helping Italian businesses to make investments abroad, we are available to reason with anybody. If it’s about colonizing Italy and its companies by foreign powers, evidently no. And, I add, the treatment of sensible data is a question of national security and interests.”
In contrast, the Minister for Economic Development Luigi Di Maio, the leader of Italy’s Five Star Movement and Salvini’s coalition partner, backs the deal.