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Italy and China want to revive spirit of ancient Silk Road

Rome. Italy and China want to revive the spirit of the ancient Silk Road by deepening their trade and investment ties, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Friday during a trip to Rome that has raised eyebrows in Washington.

Xi is set to sign a deal on Saturday that will see Italy become the first member of the Group of Seven major industrialised nations to join China’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure project (BRI), which is inspired by historic, centuries-old trade routes.

“We want to revitalise the ancient Silk Road in order to better share the fruits of humanity’s progress,” Xi said following talks with Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

Speaking through a translator, Xi said the two countries should enhance cooperation in infrastructure, ports, logistics and maritime transport.

Besides the BRI accord, various deals worth up to 7 billion euros (6.03 billion pounds) are expected to be agreed, including agreements opening up the northern ports of Trieste and Genoa to Chinese containers.

Italy’s populist government is eager for such initiatives to get underway swiftly as it battles to revitalise a sickly economy, which has slipped into its third recession in a decade.

Underscoring the warming bilateral ties, Italy offered Xi an extravagant welcome, with a cavalry phalanx escorting his limousine into the courtyard of the presidential palace — the sort of entry normally reserved for royalty.

He will later attend a state dinner in his honour, where Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli will sing for the 170 guests.

Italy’s decision to get closer to Beijing has caused concern amongst its Western allies — notably in Washington, where the White House National Security Council urged Rome not to give “legitimacy to China’s infrastructure vanity project”.

Critics of the BRI say it is designed to bolster China’s political and military influence, bringing little reward to other nations, and warn that it could be used to spread technologies capable of spying on Western interests.

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