ROME, Sept 10 (Reuters) – Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Sunday there was more to Italy’s relationship with China than the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), adding that a final decision on whether to leave the BRI was still to be taken.
Italian media reported earlier in the day that Italy would quit the BRI and instead seek to revitalise a strategic partnership agreement with China, aimed at fostering economic cooperation, that it first signed in 2004.
Italy is the only G7 nation to sign up to the BRI, a global trade and infrastructure plan modelled on the old Silk Road that linked imperial China and the West.
Italy has the G7 presidency next year and recasting its relationship with Beijing would placate its Western allies, who are fearful of Chinese influence, while reducing the risk of a backlash from Beijing.
“There are European nations which in recent years haven’t been part of the Belt and Road but have been able to forge more favourable relations (with China) than we have sometimes managed,” Meloni told a press conference at the end of the G20 summit of the world’s major economies in New Delhi.
Meloni met Chinese Premier Li Qiang on Saturday on the G20 sidelines and described the talks as polite and constructive.
“The issue is how to guarantee a partnership that is beneficial for both sides, leaving aside the decision that we will take on the BRI,” she added.
Meloni said the Chinese had renewed an invitation for her to visit Beijing but that no date had been set.
The Italian government has also been invited to a BRI Forum that China will host in October, she added.
Italian politicians have questioned the value of the BRI agreement signed by a previous administration in 2019.
In its statement on Saturday, Meloni’s office mentioned the 20th anniversary next year of a separate Global Strategic Partnership signed by China and a government led by Silvio Berlusconi in 2004.
Reporting by Keith Weir and Giuseppe Fonte; editing by Mark Heinrich
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.