Italy's participation has been seen by some observers as a way of reviving its struggling economy, but the agreement with China has caused a rift with its closest allies. However critics believe the project is meant to boost China's political and military influence.
Italy is the first Group of Seven nation to volunteer for a role in the massive global Belt and Road program, with a memorandum of understanding that the two sides formally approved at the Renaissance-era Villa Madama in Rome on Saturday.
Around 30 parallel deals were signed on the sidelines of the visit to Rome by Chinese President Xi Jinping, including 10 with Italian companies and others with ministries and public bodies.
China and Italy should also strengthen communication and coordination on macroeconomic policy and jointly push forward third-market cooperation in such fields as energy, finance and infrastructure construction, he said. The Italian government's decision was questioned by Brussels as the European Union is preparing a tougher stance towards Beijing. In a sign of opposition, Matteo Salvini, the deputy prime minister and interior minister, stayed away from the official ceremonies with the Chinese delegation.
"Like someone in the United States said "America first, ' I continue to repeat: 'Italy first" in commercial relations", Di Maio said. "For many years we had an uncoordinated approach and China took advantage of our divisions". He also said China's imports of goods are expected to exceed $12 trillion in the next five years.
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Beijing has marketed the initiative as a way to give some of the world's neediest countries a leg up, helping them gain access to more trade and investment.
The Chinese president encouraged Sicily to increase export of quality agricultural products to China and said China is ready to increase cooperation with the Region in areas of investment and tourism. Some say the proposed improvements are too expensive for the impoverished countries.
The prime minister said he is looking forward to attending the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, adding that Italy welcomes Chinese enterprises to invest in Italy and realize mutual benefit and win-win outcomes. Xi said past year that even as China moves closer to the center of the world stage, it will never seek hegemony. A corresponding agreement was signed in Rome.
In Genoa, a statement from the Port System Authority of the Western Ligurian Sea said the agreement between it, CCCC, and the Extraordinary Commissioner for the Reconstruction of Genoa had the "aim of cooperating in the implementation of the Extraordinary Program of urgent investments for the recovery and development of the port of Genoa and of the related accessibility infrastructures". Intesa aimed to sell its own financial products in Qingdao in the near future, Intesa CEO Carlo Messina said.
Italy is the first member of the G7 group of developed world economies to take the money offered by China.