Italy on March 23 endorsed China's Belt and Road Initiative, becoming the first G7 country to back Beijing's multibillion-dollar program despite concerns from the U.S. and Europe, media outlets said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte struck a memorandum of understanding covering agreements involving the banking, construction, energy and trade sectors, the South China Morning Post reported.
Italian Deputy Prime Minister and 5-Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio said Italian companies also clinched agreements worth an initial €2.5 billion with Chinese counterparts during Xi's three-day trip to Italy, Reuters reported. The deals' future value was pegged at about €20 billion, Di Maio reportedly added.
Some of the firms involved in the business deals were Eni SpA, Snam SpA, Ansaldo Energia SpA and Intesa Sanpaolo SpA, Bloomberg News said separately.
The U.S., which is working to resolve trade tensions with China, has long criticized the Belt and Road Initiative, which it said could give Beijing access to sensitive technologies. The U.S. National Security Council said March 9 that Italy's endorsement of the initiative "lends legitimacy to China's predatory approach to investment."
The agreement could also put Italy on a collision course with the European Union, which has branded China as both a cooperation partner and a "systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance."
Meanwhile, Di Maio said the goal of the agreement was to quickly eliminate Italy's trade deficit with China, which amounted to €17.6 billion in 2018, according to Reuters.