Italian scholars, government organizations and business community applauded a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to jointly advance the construction of the Belt and Road signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to the country.
Xi's state visit to Italy culminated on Saturday with the signing of the intergovernmental MOU.
The two sides realized the huge potential of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in promoting connectivity, and stand ready to strengthen the alignment of the BRI and Trans-European Transport Networks and deepen cooperation on ports, logistics, marine transport and other areas, said a joint communique issued by the two countries on Saturday, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
Giulia Sciorati, an assistant research fellow at the School of International Studies with the University of Trento, told the Global Times that despite some opposition, the Italian government decided to sign the MOU because Italy seeks to continue strengthening trade relations with China, which is one of Italy's key trade partners, both in terms of imports and exports.
According to Sciorati, 3 percent of Italy's total exports in 2018 (amounting to about 13.8 billion euros) was destined for Chinese markets. China is the fourth largest destination for Italian exports, after EU member countries, the US and Switzerland.
Alessia Amighini, Co-Head of the Asia Centre and Senior Associate Research Fellow at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies, told the Global Times that while there are different opinions within the Italian government, but no one can deny that a stronger and deeper relationship between Italy and China is needed by both sides.
According to the communique, the two sides expressed willingness to join efforts under the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to advance connectivity in line with the AIIB's mission and functions. More air links can be expected as the two sides agreed to facilitate the airline business from both countries and ease the market access for them, said the communique.
During Xi's visit, the two sides signed 19 intergovernmental bilateral cooperation documents.
They agreed to work cooperatively in fields such as environment and sustainable energy, agriculture, sustainable urbanization, health, aviation, space technology, infrastructure and transportation, according to the communique.
Sciorati predicted that the strongholds in Italy-China relations, which have historically been tourism and education, will continue to evolve. In particular, the Marco Polo and Turandot student exchange programs have proven extremely successful. The 2017- 2018 academic year saw Chinese students account for around 9 percent of Italy's total number of exchange students, ranking first in Asia.
Italian companies and businesspeople are optimistic about the Chinese market, and expect stronger bilateral ties between the two economies to bring more opportunities.
Nicola Brienza, an Italian politician and a mergers and acquisitions businessman in Shanghai, told the Global Times that he welcomes the MOU and expects the signing will help him bring more museums and exhibitions to Shanghai where he has been doing business for 15 years.
The Italian Trade Agency and Suning Holdings Group, a Fortune Global 500 company, also announced on Friday they inked an agreement to boost made-in-Italy exports to China.
The Italian Trade Agency said it will support made-in-Italy brands to more easily access the fast-growing Chinese market. Suning said it will open an Italian Pavilion on the online channels over the next three years, offering an Italian lifestyle and cultural experience, supporting brand penetration in the domestic market.
Against the backdrop of China's expanded opening-up, the two nations have made remarkable achievements in economic and trade cooperation, with bilateral trade hitting a historical high of $54.2 billion in 2018.
China's opening-up efforts not only promote mutual benefits but draw more Italian investment with greater openness and widened market access. By the end of last June, Italy had invested $7.21 billion in 5,937 projects in China, official data showed.