Bilateral relations between Italy and China were strengthened in 2019 with the signing of the Belt and Road agreement between Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
The memorandum between the two countries was at the center of public criticism in Italy. The biggest fear of Italian business groups focused on the share of the local market that China would take.
In an interview published by Il Giornale, several businessmen expressed concern about a possible “Chinese invasion” and its consequences.
Luigi Merlo, president of Federlogistica Conftrasporto, told Il Giornale: “The danger is to confuse the need to increase trade with China’s growing hegemonic position.” He added that China should not have investments in strategic European infrastructures, such as ports, freeways, and airports, nor manage anything in the long term.
After the signing of the memorandum and warnings from allied countries, Italy opened the door to Chinese capital and companies seeking new markets in Europe.
However, months later, with the change of government in Italy, the Chinese escalation began to stop. The government canceled some agreements between Chinese and Italian companies for telecommunications infrastructure, and other measures were taken. In 2020, the ties between the Chinese Communist Party and Italy were still very close, so close that the source of the first COVID-19 cases in Italy was a Chinese couple from Wuhan, as reported by media worldwide.
With the change of government in the country, a coalition formed by right-wing parties and led by Giorgia Meloni will soon take power. Will Italy’s stance towards China and Russia change?
Will Italy challenge China and Russia?
In an interview with Reuters last August, Giorgia Meloni noted that Italy should limit China’s economic expansion and would have to continue support for Ukraine.
“Ukraine… is the tip of the iceberg of a conflict whose aim is the revision of the world order. Russia is louder today and China quieter, but its penetration reaches everywhere,” she said in the interview.
In 2019, Italy became the first G7 country to join China’s Belt and Road initiative, the Chinese Communist Party’s controversial global expansion project, which seeks to improve trade between China and the world. Ties between Italy and the Asian giant were cooling after the rise of Mario Draghi as prime minister, as he asked China to review the terms of the agreements signed under the Belt and Road.
In 2021, Prime Minister Draghi vetoed the initiative of a Chinese company, Zhejiang Jingsheng Mechanical, to set up in Italy in the semiconductor sector of strategic importance for the country. Italy also rejected three other companies, all of them Chinese, and focused on the area of food production and semiconductors.
In this regard, the next Prime Minister said that “there is no political will on my part to favor Chinese expansion in Italy or Europe” and added that she was also opposed to the manufacture of electric cars in the country, as it would only favor China, the largest producer of batteries for electric cars in the world.
In an interview with a Taiwanese media outlet, Meloni clarified her position on the Belt and Road initiative, saying it was a “big mistake” for Italy and that if she had to reaffirm the agreement, she would not do so. “If I had to sign the renewal of that memorandum tomorrow morning, I would hardly see the political conditions,” she added.
The Fratelli D’Italia candidate expressed that she closely follows the situation between China and Taiwan and that the military exercises in the Strait are “unacceptable behavior by Beijing, behavior that we strongly condemn, as do all democracies in the free world.”
She said that the EU has to “deploy all the political and diplomatic weapons at its disposal” and “exert as much pressure as possible” to prevent China from provoking any military conflict in the Strait.
“Let’s not forget that the EU is also a key outbound market for China, which risks blocking itself if it decides to attack Taiwan,” she added.
Moreover, she said that if the right-wing coalition comes to power, “without any doubt, if there is a center-right government, Taiwan is sure to be a key concern for Italy.”
“We like to think of a new and more intense season of cooperation: cultural exchanges, tourism, health crisis prevention and management, scientific research and projects in the key sector of microchips where Taiwan is a world leader,” she said.
The spokesman of the Chinese embassy in Italy repudiated Meloni’s statements, “We express our strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to this,” “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. The Taiwan issue has to do with China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” “Taiwan’s affairs are purely China’s internal affairs and do not tolerate outside interference,” the spokesman added.
Regarding the Russian-Ukrainian war, initially, the right-wing alliance supported Russia. However, its stance has changed since the Russian invasion. For Meloni, Russia’s actions are “an unacceptable violation of international law.” Her new government will seek to counter Chinese and Russian influences, “we need to make a political and cultural effort to explain to everyone that the aggression against Ukraine is just the beginning of an attempt to create a new world order against the West,” she said.
“Yes to our civilization and no to those who want to destroy it”
Giorgia Meloni considers herself right-wing and describes her party as having a conservative and conventional orientation, similar to the U.S. Republican Party. Her thoughts and ideals were captured in a forceful speech she gave in Marbella in June this year at an event of VOX, the Spanish political party led by Santiago Abascal.
“There are no mediations possible, you say yes, or you say no. Yes to the natural family, no to the natural family. Yes to the natural family, no to the LGBT lobby; yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology, yes to the culture of life; no to the abyss of death; yes to the universality of the cross, no to Islamist violence; yes to secure borders, no to mass immigration; yes to the work of our citizens, no to big international finance; yes to the sovereignty of the people, no to the bureaucrats in Brussels; and yes to our civilization, and no to those who want to destroy it.” She ended her speech with these words, adding, “Long live Spain! […] Long live Italy! Long live the Europe of patriots!”.
On her Twitter account, she recently posted, “The Italians have entrusted us with an important responsibility. Now it will be up to us not to let them down and to do everything possible to restore dignity and pride to the nation.”