Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio announced on 10 March that Italy is seeking to join the Chinese Belt and Road project to stimulate the country’s exports. Earlier, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte confirmed that he could sign a framework agreement with China’s President Xi Jinping to participate in this project.

Despite US pressure, this plan will surely work if during a state visit to Italy the Chinese leader offers the most attractive cooperation package, experts noted in an interview with Sputnik.

Last week, spokesperson for the US National Security Council, Garrett Marquis, told The Financial Times that the Belt and Road Initiative is only beneficial to China, not Italy. The paper noted that the United States was irritated by the prospect of Italy joining the Chinese initiative, and warned that the project could significantly harm Rome’s international image.

In China, this statement has been regarded as a complete absurdity. The official representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China Lu Kahn noted that Italy very clearly understands its interests and is able to independently develop its own policy and attitude to the Chinese project.

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio has responded to US concerns about the prospect of Rome supporting the Chinese initiative. This was done at an event in Milan, organised by supporters of his governing Five Star Movement. He respected the concerns of the United States but said that the Chinese market yearns for products and “Made in Italy” know-how.

“Let it be clear that we are looking at the Silk Road towards China to stimulate our exports. This means not a political agreement with China but only assistance to our companies”, the Italian Deputy Prime Minister said.

Wang Yiwei, a professor in the School of International Studies at the Renmin University of China, has told Sputnik that Italy’s banking and financial sectors are facing a crisis, the country needs investments, so it is counting on Chinese capital.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on 8 March that he could sign a framework agreement to participate in this project when China’s President Xi Jinping visits Italy. The state visit is planned for 22-24 March. “With all the necessary precautions, Italy’s joining to the Silk Road opens up opportunities for our country”, the head of the government said at a seminar on foreign policy in Genoa.

Political analyst Alexander Sergunin, a professor of international relations at St. Petersburg State University has commented on the upcoming visit.

“The success of this visit will depend on what China specifically offers the Italians which investments and which areas. If this is done, the current government, which always positions itself fairly independently from Brussels and the United States, will respond to the Chinese initiative”.

Giuseppe Conte is planning to attend a summit on cooperation within the framework of the Silk Road in Beijing in April. He promised to bring EU trade standards into the ambitious Chinese project. “This is a strategic choice for the country. Such a choice should be coordinated with traditional partners.

For example, through ongoing dialogue with the United States”, Giuseppe Conte said. Meanwhile, he rejected the presumptions that Washington could punish Rome for participating in the Chinese project.

Renzo Cavalieri, an expert in Chinese and East-Asian law and associate professor at the Venice University Ca’ Foscari, in an interview with Sputnik, shared his opinion on why the US is seeking to keep Italy away from this project.

If Italy signs an agreement with China, it will be the first G7 country to do this. Earlier, a similar agreement was signed between China and Portugal during Xi Jinping’s state visit on 4-5 December last year. During the state visit by the Chinese leader to Spain on 27-29 November last year, the parties failed to agree on the conclusion of such a framework agreement.

Meanwhile, in addition to Portugal, such an agreement with China was signed by a number of other EU states: Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, and Poland.

According to Russian expert Alexander Sergunin, the possible signing of a framework agreement with Italy may push other countries in this direction. He noted that Norway, Iceland, Finland, and Greenland, which has a certain autonomy from Denmark, actively cooperate with China. The direction of the Silk Road to Northern Europe, according to the expert, is already beginning to take shape.

China is not going to “give in” under the pressure of criticism regarding the Belt and Road, said Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a press conference on 8 March. He rejected the view that the project is a “debt trap” for small countries. He compared the project with an “economic pie”, the pieces of which will benefit the local population.

The minister assured that China will continue to promote this initiative despite the growing international criticism of this project. Wang Yi noted that a total of 123 countries and 29 international organisations had signed agreements with China on this project, calling these documents “a voice of support and trust”.

According to Wang Yi, the second cooperation forum within the “Belt and Road” framework will be more representative than the first one that took place two years ago. Thousands of representatives from more than 100 countries are expected to attend. In particular, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad have already announced their intention to participate.

On Monday, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang said that China welcomes Italy’s active participation in the construction of the Belt and Road. This will open a wider space for mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation and bring more benefits to the business community and the public in both countries, he said.

The diplomat noted that bilateral relations between China and Italy are very favourable. Pragmatic cooperation between the two countries in various fields in recent years has also brought rich rewards, making a tangible contribution to the social and economic development of the parties. Expanding mutually beneficial cooperation is in the common interest of both parties and is also their strategic choice.