Reports: Italy asks China to buy bonds, invest

By the Associated Press | September 13, 2011 | 12:20 AM EDT

BEIJING (AP) — Italian officials have held talks with China's sovereign wealth fund in an effort to persuade Beijing to buy Italy's government bonds or invest in its companies, news reports said Tuesday.

The chairman of China Investment Corp. met with Italy's finance minister last week in Rome, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times reported, citing unnamed sources.

They gave no indication the two sides reached any agreements. Phone calls to CIC's Beijing headquarters were not answered.

The reports come as Italian lawmakers consider a plan to slash spending in an effort to stabilize government debt equal to nearly 120 percent of the country's annual economic output.

CIC was created in 2007 to invest a portion of Beijing's $3.2 trillion in foreign reserves, the bulk of which are held in safe but low-earning assets such as U.S. Treasury debt. The fund says it has assets of $409.6 billion, which includes stocks in a wide array of major Western companies.

CIC says it makes investments based on commercial principles. It usually buys small minority stakes in foreign companies to avoid stirring political tensions.

The fund's annual report in June said it is essentially fully invested, with only 4 percent of its assets in cash.

The talks in Rome were attended by Italian Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti, CIC chairman Lou Jiwei and officials of China's foreign currency regulator and the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, an Italian government investment vehicle, the Journal said.

Italy's financial crunch has prompted Rome to consider selling stakes in major state-owned companies such as power utility Enel or oil and gas supplier Eni, according to news reports.