No decision yet on quitting China's Belt and Road: Italy PM

Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni speaks during a news conference after attending the G20 summit, in New Delhi on 10 September, 2023

Italy has not yet decided whether to quit China's Belt and Road investment plan, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said Sunday, but doing so would not damage bilateral relations.

"We have yet to make a decision," Meloni told a press conference at the close of the G20 summit in New Delhi, a day after meeting for talks with Chinese Premier Li Qiang.

Should Rome decide to quit, it "would not compromise relations" with China, Meloni said.

Critics say the Belt and Road plan is a Trojan horse to increase China's influence and Meloni is under pressure to exit, but hopes to do so without inflaming tensions.

The deal automatically renews in March 2024 unless Italy opts out by the end of this year.

Meloni said the government was "evaluating the merits" of being part of the trillion-dollar investment scheme, which debt-ridden Italy joined in 2019.

It is the only one of the group of leading developed democracies to have signed up.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said earlier this month that the Belt and Road initiative "has not produced the results we were hoping for".

The Italian PM is tipped to travel to Beijing for a state visit in the next few months, or at the start of next year, but would not be drawn on a possible date.

"It makes more sense to go to China when we have more elements about our bilateral cooperation and how to develop it," she said.

Meloni's meeting with Li, their first face-to-face, came as a broad alliance of states at the G20 unveiled ambitious plans to create a modern-day Spice Route linking Europe, the Middle East and India, which signatories hope will offer a counterbalance to lavish Chinese infrastructure spending.

Some analysts expect Meloni to pull out of Belt and Road while boosting other existing Italy-China accords.

The meeting with Li Saturday "confirmed the common intention to consolidate and deepen the dialogue between Rome and Beijing on the main bilateral and international issues," Meloni's office said in a statement.

Next year marks the 20th anniversary of a global strategic partnership between the two countries which "will constitute the beacon for the advancement of friendship and collaboration," it said.