The czar of Chinese diplomacy in Italy: Meloni does not close to Xi
LItaly does not close the door to China. Not even with the Meloni government, who on the eve of taking office seemed destined to become the least accommodating executive in recent decades towards Beijing. But then something changed. Starting with the bilateral, which went well beyond all expectations, between Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and the Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia last November.
The attempts at dialogue and, indeed, the will to deepen relations are demonstrated by the Italian leg of the European tour of Wang Yi, a former foreign minister freshly promoted to the post of director of the Office of the Central Commission on Foreign Affairs of the Communist Party of China. That is to say, the main diplomatic role of the Beijing structure. It was he who smiled next to Luigi Di Maio, then Minister of Economic Development, after the Conte I government signed the memorandum of understanding for Italy’s accession (the first G7 country to do so) to the Belt and Road Initiative.
Many things have changed in the meantime, but not Italy’s desire to increase exports to the huge Chinese market. An issue that has remained a beacon of Italian diplomacy on China, even with the government Meloni, who initially seemed to be more prone to ideological or principled outbursts on issues such as Tibet and Taiwan. Wang promised precisely this during the meeting with Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, who was also present during Wang’s reception at the Quirinale with Sergio Mattarella.
“China ready to import more Italian products”. But there is the Silk Road crux
China is willing to import more high-quality Italian products, support Italian companies in the expansion of their market share in China and hopes that Italy will provide Chinese companies with a fair, transparent and non-discriminatory trading environment”. said Wang, who then moved on to the topic of renewing the Silk Road deal, which expires in 2024. “China is willing to deepen comprehensive strategic cooperation with Italy p“to achieve a higher level of development of bilateral relations” and, after the pandemic, China and Italy can “completely” resume exchanges and cooperation in various fields, Wang said.
It is far from certain that the renewal will take place. In reality, the renewal is tacit, therefore the Meloni government should communicate the decision not to renew it. A move that could create tensions, but on which the premier is and other government officials have repeatedly said that they would move towards a revision of the agreement, which is non-binding in any case. For now, in any case, the main Chinese need is to make sure that Italy wants to continue to cooperate, separating business from geopolitics, avoiding “headstakes” on sensitive issues such as Taiwan that could have an impact on bilateral relations.
Meloni’s possible visit to Beijing and the unknown Berlusconi
Not only. Wang also aims to organize Meloni’s visit to Beijing in the coming months, perhaps on the occasion of the next Belt and Road forum. Politically sensitive date, the premier could also choose to identify another less labeled and labelable moment. There could also be peace talks on the Chinese side to convince Meloni. It is no coincidence that Tajani told Radio Anch’io that Xi “will make a peace speech on the occasion of the first year of war”, which falls on February 24th.
“What China has always done is to promote peace and negotiations,” Wang said. “The more complicated the situation, the more it is necessary to insist on political and diplomatic efforts to find a solution acceptable to all parties”. Leaving implicit the Chinese version according to which, however, the first not to want peace would be the United States which, in fact, from the Chinese perspective, would foment the conflict.
Détente with China and Meloni’s possible next trip to Beijing are giving rise to some pitfalls on the domestic front for the premier. After the repeated incidents over Ukraine for le statements by Silvio Berlusconi, for FdI it is even more important to send signals of reliability to the US on the Asian front. Berlusconi, who has long taken a very hostile stance towards Beijing, could see room for potential criticism.
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