Italy rolled out the red carpet for China's president, clinching deals worth $2.8 billion in energy, finance, engineering and agricultural produce. Italy also offered China access to the port of Trieste, an ideal entry-point to major European markets, and agreed on China's development of the port of Genoa.
The crowning achievement for China was Italy's decision to participate in China's Belt and Road Initiative — the first G-7 country to do so.
The U.S. National Security Council publicly disapproved, saying that Italy's "Endorsing BRI lends legitimacy to China's predatory approach to investment."
French President Emmanuel Macron also lobbied hard against Italy's China deals, invoking the European solidarity and the need for a common economic and political approach to China.
Macron eventually softened his attitude and rhetoric as China decided to place an estimated $30 billion order for Airbus planes. That was a contract he was expected to sign during his visit to China in January of last year, but the Chinese decided to keep dangling the juicy deals to test Macron's policies.
Last week's annual EU-China summit in Brussels was held in a friendly atmosphere as Beijing committed to concluding an investment agreement, a work-in-progress since 2013, by the end of next year or earlier. That document should rule out China's industrial subsidies and forced technological transfers while opening up markets for EU companies.
In addition to all of those promises, Beijing pressed the right buttons with regard to rules-based multilateral trading system, the enhanced role of the World Trade Organization, and China's firm interest in EU's unity. That was all music to European ears and a sharp contrast to U.S. hostility to multilateralism, WTO and the EU as a trading bloc.
Reassuring the EU that China does not want to divide Europe, Li was off to Croatia, beaming about the "diamond era" with that small Balkan country where he secured access to the port of Rijeka, another strategic entry point into Europe for the maritime traffic that delivers most of its merchandise to the continent. Croatia also hosted the annual 16+1 meeting of China and countries of Central and Eastern Europe, 11 of which are EU members.