Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Chinese Premier Li Qiang agreed Saturday to “consolidate and deepen” engagement between Rome and Beijing, according to Meloni’s office.
The discussion took place on the margins of the G20 conference in New Delhi, amid growing suspicion that Italy is poised to withdraw from or reconsider a contentious investment agreement with China.
The European Union is a member of a wide coalition that presented ambitious plans at the G20 to build a modern-day Spice Route connecting Europe, the Middle East, and India, which members hope would provide a counterbalance to China’s excessive infrastructure investment.
Debt-ridden Italy became the first of the world’s top developed democracies to sign up to China’s trillion-dollar investment program in 2019.
The agreement automatically renews in March 2024 unless Italy opts out by the end of this year.
Critics say the Belt and Road plan is a Trojan horse to increase China’s influence and Meloni is under pressure to exit but hopes to do so without inflaming tensions.
During a visit to Beijing earlier this month, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani stated that the Belt and Road Initiative “has not produced the results we were hoping for.”
Meloni is expected to travel to Beijing for a state visit in the coming months, and some analysts believe she may cancel the contract while bolstering other current Italy-China agreements.
The meeting with Li on Saturday “confirmed the common intention to consolidate and deepen the dialogue between Rome and Beijing on the main bilateral and international issues,” according to Meloni’s office.
Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the two nations’ worldwide strategic alliance, which “will serve as a beacon for the advancement of friendship.”