A file photo shows China's President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan at Rome's Fiumicino airport in a two-day visit to Italy in 2019. Photo: AFP

Chinese President Xi Jinping landed in Italy on Thursday evening, starting a five-day whistlestop European tour amid increasing unease in Western capitals over the economic powerhouse’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Xi disembarked from his Air China Boeing 747 with his wife Peng Liyuan at Rome’s Fiumicino airport before being taken to their hotel, AFPTV reported.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese leader on Saturday for Italy to join the $1 trillion BRI, the first G7 member to do so.

Xi is to meet Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Friday during a visit that will include a tour of the Colosseum.

Around 1,000 additional police are patrolling the streets of the Italian capital for the state visit before Xi heads to Palermo, where his singer wife is believed to be keen on seeing the Teatro Massimo opera house.

NATO member Italy’s plan to join China’s ambitious maritime, rail and road venture, which critics say primarily benefits Chinese companies, has raised eyebrows among Western allies and within Italy.

Washington has warned its European allies that Chinese telecoms giant Huawei could use its next-generation 5G technology as a “backdoor” for espionage activities.

Meanwhile, Xi is expected to hold trade and climate talks on Tuesday with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The trio will be joined by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker as they try to find “points of convergence between Europe and China,” Macron’s office said Thursday.

– with reporting by Agence France-Presse

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