China's Xi plans 'peace speech' on Ukraine invasion anniversary, Italy says

China-Arab summit in Riyadh
Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the China-Arab summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia December 9, 2022. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS
  • Chinese and Italian senior diplomats met in Rome
  • Italy urges China to promote end to Ukraine war
  • China's 'Belt and Road' trade project under scrutiny in Italy

ROME, Feb 17 (Reuters) - China's President Xi Jinping will deliver a "peace speech" on the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, Italy's foreign minister said on Friday, apparently continuing Beijing's line of urging peace while avoiding condemnation of its ally Russia.

Antonio Tajani told RAI Radio 1 that he used a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Rome on Thursday to urge Beijing to use all its powers to persuade Russia to end the war while ensuring Ukraine's independence.

"He told me that Xi will deliver a peace speech on the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine," Tajani said.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 last year.

The war has killed tens of thousands, displaced millions, hammered the global economy and revived Cold War-era animosity.

Asked about Tajani's comments, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said he was unable to give information.

"China's position on the Ukraine situation has been consistent and clear," the spokesperson told a regular briefing.

Weeks before the invasion, Russia and China had agreed a "no limits" partnership and were growing closer in an axis of nations seeking to balance U.S. global influence.

Asked about Italy's partnership in China's colossal Belt and Road Initiative trade project, Tajani said Rome was assessing the issue and would decide what to do at the appropriate time.

Italy in 2019 became the first major industrialised nation to sign up for the initiative, but little has so far come of the pact, which is due for renewal in 2024.

Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said last year, before she was elected, that she did not want to favour Chinese expansion into Italy or Europe.

Pro-China economist Michele Geraci, who was undersecretary at Italy's Industry Ministry in 2019, said Italy should renew the memorandum in its own interest.

In December, the European Commission unveiled a plan called Global Gateway to invest 300 billion euros ($319 billion)globally by 2027 in infrastructure, digital and climate projects as a better alternative to China's Belt and Road Initiative.

($1 = 0.9404 euros)

Reporting by Gianluca Semeraro; additional reporting by Joe Cash in Beijing; editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Andrew Cawthorne

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