Thursday 25 April 2019

Italy welcomes Xi amid warnings by EU allies

Lavish: Xi Jinping (right) and Italian President Sergio Mattarella
Lavish: Xi Jinping (right) and Italian President Sergio Mattarella

John Follain

Italy gave Chinese President Xi Jinping a lavish welcome with an escort of guards on horseback usually reserved for visiting monarchs, shrugging off concerns of European leaders at the Asian power-making inroads in the continent.

Mr Xi met President Sergio Mattarella and business leaders yesterday before a ceremony at which the Chinese leader will sign a memorandum of understanding recruiting Italy for his transcontinental Belt and Road infrastructure project. That accord has triggered criticism from US and European Union allies that Italy is jeopardising its sovereignty.

"China and Italy are partners on a strategic level, they have mutual respect and trust for each other," Mr Xi said in speech at the presidential palace. He added that trade links can boost global prosperity.

About a dozen Italian companies will sign separate agreements with Chinese firms today, according to people familiar with the matter. They include engineering company Ansaldo Energia, which will announce commissions from Shanghai Electric worth up to €200m, the people said.

Gas pipeline operator Snam is expected to announce an agreement with the Silk Road Fund, they said. Spokespersons for Ansaldo and Snam declined to comment.

"Xi in Rome: The escort fit for kings," headlined newspaper 'Corriere della Sera', before he was greeted at the presidential Quirinale Palace by guards on horseback - an honour normally the privilege of monarchs, and last bestowed on then-Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.

Mr Xi has said he wants to offer Italy a "global strategic partnership".

Irish Independent

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