Italy’s new government will take a different stance on China

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Italy has elected its most right-wing government since the end of World War II, and China watchers expect a different kind of relationship between Giorgia Meloni, in position to become Italy’s next prime minister, and Beijing based on his comments on Taiwan during his campaign.

Diplomatic issues are not usually at the center of political debates in Italian elections, but analysts noted that before the election, Meloni made a rare statement on Taiwan, expressing his opposition to China’s military threats on the island. . She also said she would encourage bilateral contacts between Italy and Taiwan, which Beijing strongly opposes.

In July, Meloni posted a pre-election statement on Taiwan on Twitter. The Publish showed a photo of her and Taiwan’s representative in Italy, Andrea Lee Sing-ying. Meloni called Lee an ambassador. The tweet went on to say that she “always stands with those who believe in the values ​​of freedom and democracy.”

Taiwan and Italy do not have formal diplomatic relations. Like many other nations, Italy maintains diplomatic relations with China. Beijing claims democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and bristles at any official contact between Taipei and other nations.

Last week, in an interview with Taiwan’s official news agency, Meloni said the party she leads, the Brothers of Italy, would join democratic countries in condemning China’s military threat against Taiwan. and that the European Union should use all its diplomatic and political means to exert pressure to avoid conflicts in the Taiwan Strait.

FILE – Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is pictured at the presidential office in Taipei, August 22, 2022.

Taiwan as a bridge

Meloni also noted that she would deepen exchanges with Taiwan in the fields of culture, tourism, public health, scientific research and the semiconductor industry, despite differences in political philosophy with the president. Taiwanese Tsai Ing-wen.

Meloni did not specify in which areas she differed from Tsai’s philosophies. Tsai is Taiwan’s first female president and Meloni is set to become Italy’s first female prime minister, but Tsai is well known to support same-sex marriage, which Meloni opposes.

At a regular briefing this week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said he was confident ties with Italy would remain strong, but urged “some people” in Italy to recognize the “very sensitive nature” of what Beijing calls the “Taiwan issue”.

“The Taiwan issue is purely China’s internal affair, which does not tolerate any foreign interference,” Wang said. He also warned against “sending false signals to separatist ‘Taiwan independence’ forces”.

Guido Alberto Casanova, a research associate at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies, told VOA Mandarin that as an Italian far-right nationalist, Meloni’s contradictory stance on China speaks to the need to protect people. interests of Italian industries against Chinese takeovers. But his stance is also aimed at bolstering his international credibility, he said.

“She has a very controversial past. She comes from a post-fascist era of Italian politics; she was mutating into the far right. … So she needs to calm people down in Europe and the United States. United,” he said, speaking to VOA in a phone interview.

“The burning issue, in the United States, at least, is the defense of democracy and human rights. Taiwan, of course, is the key. That is why it must present itself in solidarity with the support American in Taiwan, because she has to win approval,” he said.

FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Italy's then-Prime Minister shake hands after signing a memorandum in support of Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative, at Rome's Villa Madama , March 23, 2019.

FILE – Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Italy’s then-Prime Minister shake hands after signing a memorandum in support of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, at Rome’s Villa Madama , March 23, 2019.

Belt and Road in the balance?

The Italian government has long had friendly relations with Beijing and has rarely spoken out on China issues. Chinese state media reports on Italy have been mostly positive.

However, changes in Italy’s political landscape and the dramatic change in opinion towards China around the world, as well as among Italian citizens, could have an effect on relations between Rome and Beijing, analysts said.

One area in question under the new leadership is China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a global infrastructure project that Italy has previously backed.

Italy is the only G-7 country to have signed a memorandum of understanding with China on the BRI. It was signed by then Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Chinese President Xi Jinping during the Chinese leader’s visit to Italy in 2019. The document is valid for five years and will remain in effect if there is no no objections from either side.

The Italian government had hoped the deal with Beijing would boost Italian exports to China. However, some observers said China was more interested in building infrastructure in the country and buying companies than boosting trade. For his part, Meloni has previously expressed skepticism and called signing the China deal a huge mistake.

“If the memorandum is renewed tomorrow, I hardly see the right political conditions,” she said in a Sept. 23 interview with Taiwan’s state-run Central News Agency.

Francesco Sisci, a longtime political analyst of China affairs and a visiting professor at LUISS University in Rome, told VOA Mandarin that the BRI has all but come to a standstill in Italy.

“The Italian government promised a lot but very little was delivered – in fact, almost zero. The memorandum is completely empty,” Sisci told VOA in a phone interview. “The Belt and Road Memorandum is a failure for Italy and China. The two sides had a big misunderstanding, so the document should not have been signed.”

While Meloni is expected to become Italy’s next prime minister, it will take weeks for Italy’s new government to be formed.

Bo Gu contributed to this report.


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