Xi's trip to Italy, the first leg on a six-day European tour, coincided with Brussels' decision to take a more hard-line stance against the Chinese. During a review of its China policy last week, the European Union proposed "10 actions" to member states, including requiring "reciprocity" for market access, and highlighting purported national security risks stemming from Chinese investment in "critical assets, technologies and infrastructure."
In what appears to be a bid to assuage the growing trepidation in Brussels over China's strengthening ties with Italy, and several eastern and central European states, Xi has reportedly asked Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to join him during a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron planned for Tuesday.
Meanwhile, to commemorate China's first colonial anchor in continental Europe, during a press conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Friday, Xi said "both countries should strengthen cooperation in infrastructure, ports and logistics, maritime transportation and other areas, so that the great potential can be realized."
Though Italy is directly defying Washington's warnings about the 'national security threat' endemic to doing business with Chinese state-backed companies, with Italy's economy mired in recession, and the outlook for growth dim, Beijing has offered Rome's ruling populists something that Brussels and the West haven't been willing, or able, to offer: An unprecedented economic boon, as we explained earlier today. Now, the question is, just how hard the US and Brussels will recoil at Italy's ruling populists for allowing Beijing to claim a critical stake in the heart of Europe's continent.