President Xi Jinping will travel to Europe this week, the foreign ministry said, with Italy expected to join his global trade infrastructure program despite reservations in other European countries.
Beijing has financed infrastructure, maritime, rail and road projects in Asia, Africa and Europe, but critics warn that it mainly benefits Chinese firms while setting up a “debt trap” in more financially vulnerable countries.
Xi will pay state visits from Thursday to March 26, according to the foreign ministry.
An Italian official said last week Rome would sign a non-binding memorandum of understanding with Beijing to officially support Xi’s US$1 trillion (HK$7.8 trillion) Belt and Road Initiative, or the New Silk Road.
In Italy, Xi will hold talks with President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, as well as parliamentary leaders.
“The cooperation between China and Italy under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative is mutually beneficial,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said when asked about US criticism of the initiative.
Following Italy’s announcement, French President Emmanuel Macron said European Union countries should have a “coordinated approach” to Beijing.
“It’s a good thing that China is participating in the development of many countries, but I believe in the spirit of equality, reciprocity. The spirit of equality means respecting the sovereignty of nations,” Macron said.
Xi will be the first Chinese president to visit Monaco and will hold talks with Prince Albert during the trip.
The visit to the Mediterranean principality is of “historic significance to the development of China-Monaco relations.”
Xi will also meet with Macron, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and parliamentary leaders in France.