BEIJING (AFP) - Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi met on Wednesday with top leaders of China's ruling Communist Party, the latest European leader to beat a path to Beijing's door hoping to attract more investment.
Mr Renzi, the 39-year-old former mayor of Florence, met Chinese President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and National People's Congress Chairman Zhang Dejiang on his first trip to China since becoming Italy's youngest-ever prime minister in February.
"Many people think efficiency (in Italy) is not so good and China has grown very fast, so we need to study China," Mr Renzi said after a meeting at which he and Mr Li signed ten agreements, including a deal for Shanghai Electric to buy a 40 per cent stake in Italian power engineering company Ansaldo Energia.
"We need to work hard to attract more Chinese companies to come to Italy to invest," he added. "Today, these agreements signify the new road."
European leaders are determined to court China's booming economy. In December British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Beijing with a retinue of business leaders in tow.
France scored something of an economic and diplomatic coup in March by signing a string of deals worth 18 billion euros (S$30.5 billion) after Mr Xi made a lavish state visit to Paris.
Italy, with the third-biggest economy in the euro zone after Germany and France, is striving to introduce reforms to strengthen its economy and competitiveness, as well as to underpin its widely based exporting industries.
Mr Renzi's visit to Beijing came one day after he delivered a speech at the Shanghai Italian Centre in which he touted the upcoming 2015 Expo Milano as an opportunity to boost Sino-Italian economic cooperation, according to China's official Xinhua news agency.
Mr Li said after Wednesday's signing ceremony that both countries agree their bilateral trade and investment "should have a big upgrade".
"Combining Italy's technology and China's vast market is not only a benefit to both countries" but also helps in opening up "third markets in other countries", he said.
The Chinese Premier also made a reference to Marco Polo, the 13th century Italian explorer renowned for his travels to imperial China.
"We both believe we can't return to Marco Polo's time, but we hope that between China and Italy, there will be more Marco Polo-style people making China-Italy relations the forefront of relations between China and Europe," Mr Li said.