The Taiwan trip is off. As Decode39 anticipated, a delegation of Italian MPs was about to fly to Taipei for the first time since November 2019. They were reportedly ready to leave on Tuesday. However, their mission was postponed to a later, as-of-yet unspecified date.
- La Stampa reported that the decision was taken after talks with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Those involved opted to avoid the trip at a time of high “international tensions”.
- Meanwhile, Foreign Undersecretary Maria Tripodi’s trip to China was confirmed. She attended the China International Consumer Products Expo opening ceremony on the island of Hainan on Tuesday.
Missed chances? The small delegation would have mostly been composed of members of Brothers of Italy (FdI), the party led by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. The trip’s successful completion would have consolidated her Atlanticist positioning vis a vis China and Taiwan at a crucial juncture.
- Not only did she avoid travelling to Beijing, unlike the other main European leaders – notably Germany’s Olaf Scholz and France’s Emmanuel Macron…
- … but her government will soon have to decide whether to renew the Memorandum of Understanding that brought Italy within the Belt and Road Initiative.
Zooming out. Nevertheless, the international scenario is tense indeed. China’s armed forces conducted extensive drills around Taiwan over the weekend, beginning as soon as Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen flew back from a visit to the United States (which Beijing strongly condemned).
- Although China declared the drills had ended on Monday night, its forces did not leave the area. Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said it had spotted nine Chinese ships and 26 aircraft, including J-16 and SU-30 fighters, carrying out combat readiness patrols around the island late Tuesday morning.
The French factor. All this was compounded by Mr Macron’s controversial visit to Beijing, where he called for wider cooperation in contrast with the growing European uneasiness vis a vis China. He also called on Europeans to refrain from being the US’ “vassals” and pursue their own “strategic autonomy” on the Taiwan dossier.
- The French President’s words were harshly criticised and rejected across European capitals, where the dominant sentiment is the will to bolster Transatlantic ties to better contain the threat of autocracies.
- Notably, on Tuesday the Elysée Palace had to partially walk back, stressing that Mr Macron had never called for Europe to keep an “equidistance” between Beijing and Washington.
Bottom line. While the postponement of the Italian MPs’ visit to Taipei is indeed a missed opportunity, and despite the controversial words from Paris, Rome’s overall line on China and the United States has not changed and hardly will. The Italian government is strengthening the country’s defences against undue Chinese influence and aligning with Washington on the most crucial dossiers, including Taiwan.