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Chinese President Xi Jinping at the National People's Congress in Beijing. Photo: Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping will arrive in Rome tomorrow ready to plant a flag in the heart of Europe.

What to watch: Italy is expected to break with most other advanced economies by formally signing onto Beijing's $1.3 trillion global Belt and Road (BRI) infrastructure initiative.

The big picture: Announced in 2013, BRI aims to boost China's trade and international clout through massive new investments in roads, railways and ports across the world. Italy's decision to sign onto the initiative — the centerpiece of Beijing's plans to overtake the U.S. as the dominant global economic power of the 21st century — is controversial.

  • Brussels and Washington don't like it at all, because they fear that if Italy takes loans from China, it could end up in a dangerous web of debt that exposes it to pressure from Beijing.
  • After all, Italy is already Europe's second-most indebted country, and unlike much smaller economies like Greece, a systemic crisis there could unravel the entire Eurozone.

Within Rome, too, there is some disagreement: Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, of the centrist Five Star Movement, is all for closer relations with Beijing, but far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is more skeptical.

Still, Chinese cash solves a pressing problem for their populist governing coalition.

  • Clashes with Brussels over budget parameters have forced Di Maio and Salvini to backtrack on their campaign promises to cut taxes and boost social spending.
  • Delivering new infrastructure with Chinese money could be a big political winner, especially after a high-profile bridge collapse last year.

More broadly, Europe is already having trouble finding consensus on how to approach China's tech investments, 5G equipment suppliers and infrastructure investments.

  • The smaller economies of Central and Eastern Europe welcome the cash, while most of the larger economies are concerned about the financial and security implications of Chinese capital.
  • EU members are scheduled to meet on Friday to discuss a common approach to Chinese investment into the bloc.

The bottom line: The decision of the bloc's fourth largest economy to embrace Beijing has just opened up a major new fault line within Europe.

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Go deeper

Scoop: Over 200 papers quietly sue Big Tech

Newspapers all over the country have been quietly filing lawsuits against Google and Facebook for the past year, alleging the two firms monopolized the digital ad market for revenue that would otherwise go to local news. 

Why it matters: What started as a small-town effort to take a stand against Big Tech has turned into a national movement, with over 200 newspapers involved across dozens of states.

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Data: World Inequality Report 2022; Chart: Axios Visuals

The super-rich are getting stupid rich: New data out today shows the share of global wealth held by the richest slice of humanity swelled by almost a full percentage point during the pandemic.

Driving the news: The top 0.01% of individuals now hold about 11% of the world's wealth, compared to just over 10% in 2020, according to the "World Inequality Report 2022," written by Lucas Chancel, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman.

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Expand chart
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Vaccination rates have ticked higher since the discovery of the Omicron variant, CDC data shows.

By the numbers: The seven-day average for vaccinations in the U.S. reached about 1.8 million on Monday, up from an average of about 1.3 million a month ago.