Relations between China and Italy have withstood the test of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Tuesday.

Wang made the remarks at a press briefing in Rome with Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio after their talks.

Wang noted that Italy provided medical supplies to China when China was hit hard by the pandemic. After the pandemic hit Italy, Chinese experts headed to different parts of the European country to share experience in fighting the coronavirus.

He said China’s support to Italy had nothing to do with politics and that there was no self-interest involved.

Speaking to reporters, Di Maio called China an “indispensable partner” in the world and vowed to enhance cooperation with China in the fight against COVID-19 and beyond in the future.

Italy is the first stop of Wang’s five-nation tour in Europe. He will also visit the Netherlands, Norway, France and Germany. It is his first overseas trip after the pandemic began to ease in China.

The Chinese diplomat said China will continue to help Europe’s efforts in fighting the coronavirus and reviving its economy.

BRI – Key Driver of Deeper China-Italy Cooperation

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Italy, Wang noted, adding that there are three reasons for stable development of bilateral relations over the decades.

As two ancient civilizations in the East and the West, China and Italy appreciate each other’s civilizations and respect each other’s choices of development paths and legitimate rights; as two major economies in the world, the two countries have been committed to openness, cooperation and mutual benefits; the two sides are always ready to help each other as longtime friends and partners, according to Wang.

As China and Italy make plans for their relations in the next 50 years, he said the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) is a key driver of deeper bilateral cooperation.

The China-proposed initiative comprises the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along and beyond the ancient Silk Road routes.

Italy became the first G7 nation to sign a memorandum of understanding with China on BRI cooperation in March 2019.

Wang also called on the two countries to uphold multilateralism and free trade. China will support Italy’s work when the latter holds the rotating presidency of the G20 next year, he said.

“China and Italy are both countries with responsibility for world peace and stability. Thus we should vigorously defend multilateralism and free trade and maintain a stable global industrial supply chain,” he stressed.

Safeguarding Multilateralism

On the same day, Wang had a phone call with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who was outside of Rome on vacation.

Wang said that this is the first visit by a Chinese foreign minister to Europe after the epidemic broke out, and Italy was chosen as his first stop, which sent a clear signal to the world that China values ties with Italy.

China supports Italy in assuming the chairmanship of the G20 next year, and is willing to work with Italy to safeguard the international system with the United Nations at its core, strengthen cooperation in global governance, safeguard the multilateral trading system, build an open world economy for the post-epidemic era and make contributions to world peace and development, Wang said.

Conte said the signing of a memorandum of understanding on Belt & Road cooperation between Italy and China provides an important development opportunity for Italy.

Italy hopes to further strengthen cooperation between the two countries in the fields of energy, industry, economy and trade, and promote a more balanced bilateral economic and trade relationship, said the prime minister.

Italy is willing to play an important role in promoting the healthy development of EU-China relations and expects that the two sides will complete the investment agreement negotiations as scheduled and sign the agreement on geographical indications as soon as possible, noted Conte.

Italy firmly supports multilateralism and advocates multilateral power rather than unilateral approaches to solving the problems and challenges facing the world today, he stressed.