Choosing Europe as the destination of President Xi Jinping’s first overseas trip this year fully shows China’s support for the continent, State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Friday in Beijing.

Wang made the remark at a news conference on the sidelines of the second session of the 13th National People’s Congress when asked how to consolidate political ties and mutual trust between China and Europe.

“Europe is always an important priority on China’s diplomatic agenda, and China supports European integration and a united and strong EU,” he said, noting that Xi will visit Europe later this month.

While the China-Europe relationship sometimes suffers external interference and distraction, he said, China hopes to have more dialogue with the European side to appropriately handle the situation.

“We believe that Europe, as a key force in the world, will keep its fundamental, long-term interests in mind and pursue an independent, consistent and forward-leaning China policy,” Wang said.

In a world full of uncertainties, China and Europe have common views and concerns in safeguarding multilateralism and fighting unilateralism and protectionism, he said.

In response to media reports that Italy is considering joining the Belt and Road Initiative, Wang said China welcomes Italy and other European countries to take an active part in Belt and Road construction.

“Italy is an independent country, and we believe you will stick to the decision that you independently made,” he said.

So far, 123 countries and 29 international organisations have signed agreements with China on jointly building the BRI.

In late April, the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation will be held in Beijing. According to Wang, Xi will attend the opening ceremony and deliver a keynote speech, and also will chair a leaders’ roundtable.

The number of foreign heads of state and government expected to attend will be much more than at the first Belt and Road Forum, and it will be a much bigger event with thousands of delegates from over 100 countries expected to attend, he said.

“China looks forward to a full exchange of views on our future cooperation plans,” he said.

Wang denied accusations that the BRI is creating debt traps in other countries or serving as a geopolitical tool.

Plenty of facts have proved that the BRI is an “economic pie” that benefits all, as well as a great opportunity for shared development, he said. For example, Kenya’s Mombasa-Nairobi railway, built with Chinese assistance, has created nearly 50,000 local jobs and boosted Kenya’s economic growth by 1.5 percent.

“Of course, all new initiatives need time to be mature, and we welcome constructive suggestions from our BRI partners,” Wang added.