Xi Jinping hails 'deep friendship' after Mattarella meeting

Xi Jinping and Sergio Mattarella spoke warmly of their growing relationship.

ROME - President Xi Jinping Friday hailed Italy and China's deep friendship as he met his Italian counterpart Sergio Mattarella to discuss Italo-Chinese relationships before attending at a gala dinner at the Quirinal Palace.

 Xi, who has travelled to Rome with an entourage thought to include around 500 people, landed in style Thursday night at Rome’s Fiumicino airport and was met by Agriculture Minister Gian Marco Centinaio before proceeding to his stay at the Hotel Parco dei Principi in Villa Borghese.

 The historic centre of the city has gone into lock down for the course of Xi’s visit, with over 1,000 police officers deployed around the city and helicopters shadowing his every move.

 First on Xi's agenda was a bilateral discussion with Sergio Mattarella. Both men emerged from the meeting in high spirits with Mattarella telling the press: "The cooperation between Italy and China will be confirmed and strengthened during President Xi's visit". 

 He went on to describe the visit as "an opportunity to record the excellent relations between China and Italy and to develop them yet further".

 Xi echoed many of Mattarella's words, concluding that "despite the geographical distance, the two countries have always nurtured a deep friendship".

 The Chinese president then travelled to the Altar of the Fatherland in Piazza Venezia where he was be met by representatives from Chinese communities across Italy.

 Xi will later Friday attend a gala dinner at the Quirinal palace alongside 164 other guests, amongst which top state ministers, cultural icons and business leaders. Chinese Inter Milan owner Steven Zhang will also be in attendance to welcome Xi.

 The event precedes the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Italy and China on the Belt and Road Initiative which will take place Saturday.

 Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will receive Xi at the Madama Palace for the historic accord that has caused such debate across Italy and Europe.

 After visiting Italy, Xi will travel to Monaco and then France where he will meet with President Emmanuel Macron.

 Macron has invited German head of state Angela Merkel and President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker to this meeting, but Italy remain a notable absence after they distanced themselves from the EU’s position and agreed to sign an MoU with China.