Beijing: Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to Italy, Monaco and France this week, the foreign ministry said Monday, with Rome expected to join his global trade infrastructure programme 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 massive USD 1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also known as the New Silk Road.
In Italy, Xi will hold talks with President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, as well as parliamentary leaders, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press briefing.
"The cooperation between China and Italy under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative is mutually beneficial," Geng said when asked about US criticism of BRI.
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 II during the trip, Geng said.
The visit to the Mediterranean principality is of "historic significance to the development of China-Monaco relations," he added.
In France, Xi will meet with Macron, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and parliamentary leaders, Geng said.
"The two sides have been maintaining close communication and coordination on maintaining multilateralism, improving global governance, and addressing major issues such as climate change," he added.