Italy-China ties are of fundamental significance and joining the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is important to the European Country, a Senior Italian diplomat has said.

“Relations with a large and populated country like China are fundamental and strategic,” Manlio Di Stefano, Italian undersecretary of state for foreign affairs and international cooperation, told Xinhua News Agency via phone in a recent interview.

“There is a positive feeling around Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Italy”

Noted Di Stefano, in the run-up to Xi’s state visit, which started Thursday and is the first of its kind in 10 years.

During the visit, the two countries will, among others, strengthen practical cooperation in various areas within the BRI framework, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced earlier, amid growing anticipation that they would ink a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on BRI cooperation.

“It is evident that Italy is a natural European terminal for the Belt and Road Initiative,”
Di Stefano said, adding that signing the MoU is a step forward on economic agreements and “underlines our intention to be linked to a big infrastructural initiative.”

“The Belt and Road Initiative is developing day by day,” he said. “We are trying to be part of it in an active way; it will then be important for us to join in order to be part of the decision process.”

Among the key sectors of the Italian economy that will benefit from the BRI, he added, are those “related to high technology and high specialisation, in which we are a leader,” as well as “the infrastructure sector and its supply chain, which are another priority for us.”

“In this way, we can open the way to the huge Chinese market for our highly specialised SMEs (small or medium-sized enterprises),” said the senior diplomat.

Describing Italy as “the European port of call” within the BRI framework, Di Stefano said it will be important to reach a win-win agreement by introducing certain innovations, such as the concept of bilateral opening of customs to allow more Italian goods into China.

The Italian official noted that in the European Union, there is “a general interest” in and “some doubts” about the BRI, but he said he believes that “the role Europe wants to play as a strong global actor could avoid any fears.”

“If we take part in this initiative together as a ‘united Europe,’ we will be able to be part of the decision process and benefit from it,” he said.

“It is interesting to see how all the EU member states are taking part, in a way, in the AIIB (Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank), which is the basis of the infrastructural projects of the Belt and Road,” he said.

Commenting on the voices of concern from the other side of the Atlantic, the Italian undersecretary stressed that the United States should not be afraid.

“Being founding members of the EU and partners of Washington doesn’t mean avoiding strategic opportunities for our enterprises,” he said. “A good ally should understand that.”