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Italian Prime Minister Giorgio Meloni said Rome wants to build stronger ties with China even as it considers withdrawing from Beijing’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative in the coming months.

“The question is how to ensure a mutually beneficial partnership, no matter what choices we make on the Belt and Road Initiative,” Meloni told a news conference in New Delhi at the end of the G20 summit on Sunday.

Meloni met Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang on the sidelines of the summit to discuss the future of Italy-China relations, as her government reconsiders Italy’s participation in President Xi Jinping’s flagship foreign policy initiative.

Italy’s 2019 decision to join the Belt and Road Initiative – the only G7 country to join China’s trade and infrastructure plans – frustrated Rome’s Western allies, especially Washington, a move Meloni has said in the past was prompted by his predecessor The government made “a mistake.”

Italian officials say Rome is now looking to move away from the Belt and Road Initiative without angering China or retaliating and looking for other ways to deepen economic ties.

In June, Meloni said her government intended to recalibrate relations with Beijing when it restricted shareholder rights in Milan-listed tire maker Pirelli, a Chinese chemicals giant Sinochem Group, citing national security concerns.

Meloni pointed to the “friendly and constructive atmosphere” of her weekend talks with Li Keqiang and said some European countries that have never joined the Belt and Road Initiative “still managed to have a more favorable relationship with China than we have.”

She reiterated her intention to visit China but said the date would not be set until the two countries reached an understanding on bilateral cooperation and “how to strengthen it.”

Xinhua, China’s official news agency, said Li Keqiang told Meloni that Beijing hopes Italy will “provide a fair, just and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese companies.” The report did not specifically mention Pirelli.

China has been trying to persuade Italy not to withdraw from the Belt and Road Initiative. Foreign Minister Wang Yi told visiting Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani last week that bilateral trade volume between China and Italy has increased from US$50 billion to nearly US$80 billion in the past five years.

According to Xinhua News Agency, Wang Yi also told Tajanai that despite geopolitical tensions, “China and Italy should adhere to the correct way of getting along” and respect and trust each other.

In an article about Tajani’s visit, the state-run China Daily quoted an analyst who accused the United States of pressuring Italy to withdraw from the Belt and Road Initiative.

Italy’s BRI membership will be automatically renewed for five years in 2024, unless Rome formally notifies Beijing of its intention to withdraw in the coming months.

Michele Geraci, who once served as Italy’s deputy minister of economic development, has publicly stated that the Meloni government has no real strategy for dealing with Beijing, and that Italian companies and citizens who cooperate with China will withdraw from the plan if Rome withdraws , will pay a heavy price.

At the same time, EU Council President Michel, who met with Li Keqiang separately in New Delhi, later said that there is “common interest” in holding a China-EU summit before the end of this year, but it is necessary to prepare for “high-level departmental dialogue”.

Additional reporting by Henry Foy in New Delhi

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