ROME (Reuters) - A strategic partnership between Italy and China would be more valuable than a deal such as the Belt and Road initiative, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said on Wednesday addressing Parliament.
In 2019, Italy became the first major Western nation to join China's Belt and Road, a global trade and infrastructure initiative modeled on the idea of the old Silk Road that had linked imperial China and the West millennia ago.
Tajani's comments, after a visit earlier this week to Beijing, give an indication of how Italy might seek to resolve a difficult diplomatic call on whether to withdraw from the accord.
Italy has expressed doubts over its membership and has until December to formally withdraw from an accord which expires next March. Otherwise, it will be extended for another five years.
"A strategic partnership involves all sectors, so it is more important than single bilateral agreements such as the Silk Road (Belt and Road), which so far is unsatisfactory in terms of exports and investment," Tajani said.
Since its was launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013, more than 100 other countries have signed individual agreements with China to cooperate on BRI infrastructure and building projects.
An Italian official close to the matter said that during his visit to China Tajani signalled the possibility for Italy to pull out from the BRI deal while stressing the desire to keep strong ties with Beijing.
The visit was also meant to show high respect for the current Chinese leadership which is facing challenging economic issues, and avoid retaliation for an eventual departure from the BRI.
On Wednesday Tajani repeated that the Italian government would consult parliament before finalising its position on the issue.
After meeting Tajani in Beijing this week, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said cooperation with Italy had been fruitful despite Italian scepticism.
(Reporting by Francesca Piscioneri and Giselda Vagnoni; Writing by Keith Weir; Editing Federico Maccioni and Tomasz Janowski)