Washington, March 6 : Italy is reportedly planning to officially announce its support for China's Belt and Road Initiative this month that would make it the largest economy to back the massive global infrastructure project that is a signature policy of President Xi Jinping.
Italy's Under Secretary in the Economic Development Ministry, Michele Geraci, told the Financial Times that his country was in negotiations to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in support of the Belt and Road programme.
Reports said that the Italian government could sign an MOU within weeks in the hope of attracting greater Chinese investment in its struggling economy.
Geraci told the Financial Times that the deal would hopefully be done in time for Xi's visit to Italy in March. The Italian media also reported on the plan.
If it signs the agreement with Beijing, Italy would be the first member of the G7 group of advanced economies to officially back the initiative, with the US, Japan and the UK all reluctant to come on board, CNN said.
China aims to connect Asia, Europe and Africa through a vast network of highways, sea lanes and ports under the Belt and Road project. It plans to spend about a trillion dollars in over 65 countries under the project, which many, including India, see as a part of Beijing's geostrategic design.
However, China says the project is purely economic in nature.
"We want to make sure that 'Made in Italy' products can have more success in terms of export volume to China, which is the fastest-growing market in the world," Geraci told the newspaper.
White House National Security Council spokesperson Garrett Marquis told the daily that the US was sceptical of the benefits to Italy from an endorsement of the Chinese initiative and urged allies and partners to increase the pressure on Beijing to align its global investments with international practices.
According to state-run news agency Xinhua, recession-hit Italy formed a China Task Force in October to investigate economic opportunities in China including the possibility of endorsing the initiative.
China's Ambassador to Italy, Li Ruiyi, attended the first meeting of the task force in Italy and spoke positively about bilateral relations.
"Italy and China were linked by the ancient Silk Road in the past. We expect the Task Force to help strengthen the two countries' cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative and contributing to a closer EU-China relationship," Li said.
Asked about the possible announcement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told the media on Wednesday that "an increasing number of countries and international organizations" wanted to take part.
"More and more of them have found this is indeed a very good platform for mutually beneficial cooperation since the Belt and Road was proposed six years ago. And we will release any information about this in time once we have it," he said.