Two Italian senators in Taiwan. League senators Gian Marco Centinaio and Elena Murelli, both members of the Italian Senate’s EU Policies Committee, landed in Taiwan on Wednesday for a visit that will last until Monday.
- To reach Taipei, they departed from Milan’s Malpensa airport on a new direct route, inaugurated in October 2022 by Eva Air, the country’s largest private airline (the Rome-Taipei route was also recently resumed).
Second time’s the charm? The visit was originally planned for April – same as another, but led by Brothers of Italy MPs. Both had been postponed due to Chinese military exercises around Taiwan. This time around, as they explained, the trip comprises only League members because of the numbers in Parliament. The governing majority has tight numbers in the Senate, and Taiwan is not officially a recognised State, so MPs cannot organise a full-fledged, traditional mission.
It’s a political balancing act. Nevertheless, as the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry pointed out, this is the first Italian parliamentary delegation to visit since Parliament was re-elected and the government headed by Giorgia Meloni took office. Taipei also stressed that this is the highest-level mission to Taiwan ever undertaken by an Italian parliamentary delegation, and the first since 2016.
- Still, the Italian side sought to contain Taiwan’s enthusiasm, highlighting that Senator Centinaio’s is a personal visit, not an institutional one.
- Two elements may have suggested such prudence: the delicate international situation, with rising tensions between the United States and China…
- … and the Italian government’s pending decision on whether to renew the Memorandum of Understanding tying Italy into the Belt and Road Initiative.
All the honours. The Italian delegation will, however, be received at an institutional level and attend several high-level meetings: with President Tsai Ing-wen, Parliament’s President You Si-kun, the Minister of Health and Welfare Xue Ruiyuan, the president of the Agriculture Council, Chen Jizhong, the director of the National Palace Museum Xiao Zonghuang, Economic Affairs Minister Chen Zhengqi and Tainan Mayor Huang Wei-che.
- The Italian senators will also meet with several local enterprises.
Bolstering ties. The Taiwanese Foreign Ministry statement also emphasised that relations between Italy and Taiwan have “greatly improved” in recent years, partly thanks to Senators Centinaio and Murelli’s “concrete” support. The Italian Parliament, as Taipei’s diplomacy recalled, has launched several initiatives to draw attention to the situation in the Taiwan Strait.
- With such meetings on the agenda, it’s hard for Taiwan not to underscore the importance of the visit – despite the fact that Mr Centinaio is not there in his official capacity as Vice President of the Senate.
Parliamentary diplomacy is of fundamental importance for an unrecognised State like Taiwan, as clearly demonstrated by the April meeting between President Tsai and US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy – which angered China. Taipei does not have formal ties with many of the partner countries and is constantly trying to build deeper connections, in the knowledge that the more they are (in terms of both quantity and quality), the more complex it will be for Beijing to proceed with its annexation plan.
- Chinese President Xi Jinping has stressed that he does not intend to renounce the use of force to annex Taiwan – a step that could alter the global security balance.
- That’s one of the reasons why an Italian visit at this stage – made heavier by the looming BRI decision – holds an even stronger value. To Taiwan, first and foremost.