Words from Taiwan. “Taipei would also be relieved” if Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni does end up pulling Italy out of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, according to an editorial in the leading Taiwanese paper Taipei Times. “With all the progress made recently with internationalising the Taiwan Strait issue and improving ties with EU countries, having Beijing controlling supply chains into the centre of Europe is cause for concern.”
- The editorial breaks with Taiwan’s usual refrain from commenting on the internal matters of partner States, especially if it risks upsetting the balance around the Taiwanese issue. To best understand Taipei’s sentiment, one must take a step back.
As Rome distances itself from Beijing… shortly before winning the election and becoming PM, Ms Meloni had called Italy’s entrance into the BRI “a big mistake” during an interview with Taiwanese newswire CNA. Her government has since signalled it’s heading for the exit, noting the project didn’t really work out – demonstrably – as a tool to boost Italian exports.
- As the Taipei Times also notes, the United States would welcome Italy’s distancing from what it had called China’s “vanity project.” Except it’s much more than that, argues the editorial: “it is an audacious, innovative and effective mechanism for promoting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) attempt to subvert the established international world order.”
- “Essentially, the core concept of the BRI is to provide investment in infrastructure projects in participating countries to fabricate a sprawling trade and supply chain network that ostensibly benefits those countries, but ultimately consolidates centralised control of the entire network in Beijing.”
- In a joint statement that followed their meeting in late July, PM Meloni and US President Joe Biden “reiterate[d] the vital importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, which is instrumental to regional and global security and prosperity,” and committed to “strengthen bilateral and multilateral consultations on the opportunities and challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China.”
… it’s also getting closer to Taipei. Over the past months, political and economic ties between Italy and Taiwan have been steadily improving. On the former front, the latest notable events include the opening of a second Taiwanese Representative Office on Italian soil and a (non-institutional) visit by two influential Italian senators, the first since PM Meloni entered high office.
- The senators made it to Taipei thanks to a newly established air route linking the Taiwanese capital directly with Milan. Another route, departing from Rome, was also recently resumed. And most recently, Italy’s civil air traffic manager inked a deal with Taiwan’s air navigation services provider.
- It’s not just air cooperation, though: the growing commercial entente includes semiconductors, the subject of talks between high-level officials, led by Enterprise Minister Adolfo Urso, who reportedly explored strengthening industrial cooperation in this key area.
- Though remaining shy of more official acknowledgements – which would upset the status quo in the Taiwan Strait – these efforts are geared towards bolstering Taipei’s international standing and influence.
The bottom line: Rome’s growing attention towards Taipei, along with its drive to de-risk from Beijing, is increasingly evident. And given all of the above, the Taipei Times’ remarkably strong editorial reflects the reassurance that Taipei draws from seeing its partners aligning with its chief security provider, the US, and breaking with China’s global influence project – which Beijing has already leveraged to coerce European countries out of building better relations with Taiwan.
- It is a tightrope, though: Rome’s strengthening links with Taipei might also cause Beijing to feel it should react more forcefully to Italy’s exit from the BRI, were it to happen, so as to project strength…
- …and the Italian government is working to minimise the risk of economic retaliation.