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Italy ahead of Taiwan-friendly shift

by Aryabhatta Adhya

CHINA CRITIC: Prime ministerial candidate Giorgia Meloni, the front-runner in today’s election, said that she would not renew a Belt and Road Initiative deal with Beijing

Italian lawmaker Giorgia Meloni, the front-runner to become the country’s next prime minister, is expected to reverse course on Italy’s support for China’s Belt and Road Initiative and strengthen ties with Taiwan if a coalition headed by her party wins the country’s general election today.

“Without any doubt, if there is a center-right government, it is sure that Taiwan will be an essential concern for Italy,” Meloni told the Central News Agency in an interview.

Italians are to vote in a snap election triggered by the resignation of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi following a failed attempt to get his coalition partners to support him in a confidence vote on July 20.

Italian lawmaker Giorgia Meloni delivers an address during a rally by her Brothers of Italy party in Naples, Italy, on Friday, ahead of the country’s general election today.

Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party leads the polls, would be Italy’s first far-right prime minister since World War II and first-ever female prime minister.

The Brothers of Italy traces its origins to the neofascist Italian Social Movement and retains its logo, but Meloni has tried to distance the party, which she cofounded in 2012, from its past.

She has described her party as a mainstream conservative party similar to Britain’s Conservative Party and the Republican Party in the US.

Until early this year, her party promoted closer ties with Russia, but it reversed course after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. It has over the past few years softened its skeptism of European integration and dropped its position that Italy should leave the eurozone.

In the interview, Meloni voiced support for Taiwan, and criticized China’s assertive actions across the globe and their implications for Italy and the EU.

Referring to the relationship between her party and Taiwan as a “sincere friendship,” Meloni said she has been “following closely with unease” what is happening in the Taiwan Strait as a result of the intensified Chinese threats.

“This is an unacceptable conduct by Beijing, a conduct that we strongly condemn, together with all the democracies of the free world,” Meloni said.

The EU must “deploy all the political and diplomatic weapons at its disposal” and “put pressure as hard as possible” to prevent China from causing any military conflict in the Strait, she said.

Taiwan is a strategic trade partner for Italy and Europe, Meloni said.

“Let us not forget that the EU is also a key outlet market for China, which risks being closed if they decide to attack Taiwan,” she said.

A former Italian minister of youth, Meloni has since 2020 been president of the European Conservatives and Reformists Party in the European Parliament.

In 2019, Italy became the only G7 country to sign on to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure plan created by Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in 2013 to develop trade routes connecting China and the rest of the world.

Three years after joining the initiative, Italy seems ready to change tack.

Draghi vowed to reassess the country’s involvement in the scheme at a G7 summit last year, during which the group agreed to finance infrastructure projects in developing countries as a counterbalance to Beijing’s plan.

“It’s an autocracy that does not adhere to multilateral rules and does not share the same vision of the world that the democracies have,” Draghi said of China after the summit.

Asked if she would approve the renewal of a memorandum of understanding Italy signed with China on the initiative, scheduled for 2024, Meloni described Italy’s embrace of the scheme as “a big mistake.”

She cited many events since the signing of the memorandum, including China’s repeated shows of force targeting Taiwan, repression of Hong Kong democracy advocates, discrimination against Uighurs and other minorities, and ambiguous stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in support of her position.

“If I were to sign the renewal of that memorandum tomorrow morning, I would hardly see the political conditions,” she said.

“I hope time will serve Beijing to soften its tone and do something concrete toward respect for democracy, human rights and international legality,” she said.

If she becomes prime minister, her government would work to ensure that the EU’s Global Gateway project — aimed at pushing infrastructure development investments worldwide — helps countries that see no alternative to “Chinese penetration,” Meloni said

Countering the influence of the authoritarian leaders of Russia and China in the Western Balkans, in parts of Africa, the Indo-Pacific region and Latin America would also be a top priority of her administration, she said.

“Sovereignty is defended militarily, as well as in the area of cybersecurity and in terms of freedom of information against Russian and Chinese attempts of meddling,” she said.

Meloni also called for more support for Ukraine amid fears that the consequences of the sanctions imposed on Russia and the high price of fuel might risk undermining the West’s solidarity against Moscow.

“We need to make a political and cultural effort to explain to everyone that the aggression against Ukraine is only the beginning of an attempt to create a new world order against the West,” Meloni said. “And if Ukraine loses, the consequences will be very serious for all of us.”

On the prospective relationship between Italy and Taiwan under her watch, Meloni said Taiwan would be “an essential concern for Italy,” adding that she has also brought forward issues of concern to Taiwan for discussion in her European Parliament group.

“We like to think of a new and more intense season of cooperation: cultural exchanges, tourism, prevention and management of health crises, scientific research and projects in the key sector of microchips where Taiwan is a world leader,” she said.

Source: Taipei Times

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