China hopes new Italian govt will stay pragmatic in handling strategic ties
Rise of right-wing in Italy shows ‘political polarization’ in Europe
Published: Sep 26, 2022 11:27 PM
Leader of Italian far-right party Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy), Giorgia Meloni acknowledges the audience after she delivered an address at her party's campaign headquarters overnight on September 26, 2022 in Rome, after the country voted in a legislative election.Photo: AFP

Leader of Italian far-right party "Fratelli d'Italia" (Brothers of Italy), Giorgia Meloni acknowledges the audience after she delivered an address at her party's campaign headquarters overnight on September 26, 2022 in Rome, after the country voted in a legislative election.Photo: AFP

The leader of Italian political party Brothers of Italy Giorgia Meloni looks set to become the country's first woman prime minister at the head of its most right-wing government since World War II, according to many mainstream Western media outlets, after she led a conservative alliance to triumph at Sunday's election. The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Monday said China hopes the new Italian government can continue to insist on a positive and pragmatic policy toward China.

Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a daily routine press conference on Monday that China and Italy are comprehensive strategic partners, and the stable development of bilateral ties serves the common interests of both sides.

Chinese analysts said the victory of ring-wing forces in Italy, a major economy of the EU, shows that the political atmosphere in Europe is becoming polarized, with populist political forces from both the far-left and far-right rising in different countries, which is a signal that the political struggles between the left and right will greatly affect the efficiency, reliability, credibility and continuity of governments across Europe, and it will be hard for the EU to conduct effective reform amid the serious challenges of an energy crisis and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Western mainstream media outlets, such as CNN, have expressed their concerns over Meloni and her far-right government, by comparing her with Benito Mussolini, Italy's fascist leader during World War II. BBC quoted an Italian expert as saying that "we will see more restrictions on civil rights and policies on LGBT and immigrants" in Italy.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has warned Italy of consequences should it veer away from democratic principles, issuing a barely veiled threat ahead of Sunday's election, Reuters reported. Pope Francis also urged Italians to help migrants on Sunday, when the election result was expected to bring the anti-immigration far-right coalition into power, the Guardian reported. 

It's certain that Europe's integration process and unity within the EU will be challenged, said analysts, noting that after a series of incidents including the Arab Spring, Greece's debt crisis, the immigration crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the EU's political system seems unable to effectively coordinate its members to jointly handle major challenges, and the policies issued by decision-makers are far from meeting the actual needs of grass-roots people in Europe. 

This is a key reason why the populist or far-right political forces who dare to point out these problems are becoming increasingly popular, but experts also said pointing out the problems doesn't necessarily mean solving them. 

Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said on Monday, "Many are worried that the right-wing alliance may not be capable of solving many problems in Italy such as its debt crisis, which may lead to economic problems for the entire euro zone, not to mention the fact that before the election, the European Commission chief publicly expressed that she did not welcome the most right-wing government in Italy since World War II."

"The political polarization is the real problem that the EU should really worry about, because it means no one has the majority and policies proposed by one side can be blocked and stopped by the other. As a result, no practical policy can be fully and stably implemented by the government," Wang Shuo, a professor at the School of International Relations of Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Global Times on Monday.

Wang Shuo said the EU is unlikely to solve this problem through simple reforms, because it's a structural problem of the Western political system, so the struggle between left and right will continue, and will also show a similar trend in the future, even in major EU powers like France and Germany.

"The new right-wing government in Italy will attach more importance to the national interests of Italy and autonomous policy-making without influence from the EU, so this means the EU will see more obstacles when pushing integration in the fields of financial policy and diplomacy," Zhong Zhun, an expert on European studies at Chongqing University, told the Global Times on Sunday.

But the Meloni government won't be too irrational, and as a major economy in the EU that has also benefited from the EU system, will not take extreme actions like "Brexit", and Italy will keep its stance on the Russia-Ukraine crisis the same as the EU's, even though the EU has openly expressed its concerns and warnings to Meloni and her right-wing coalition, said analysts. 

China-Italy relations

Relations between China and Italy have developed stably in recent years, with Italy taking the lead in Western countries to join the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2019, and the two countries have also cooperated in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Meloni has made some tough remarks toward China on not only BRI cooperation, but also the sensitive Taiwan question, telling Taiwan media on Friday that she will strengthen ties and "if there is a center-right government, Taiwan will be an essential concern for Italy." 

Spokesperson Wang Wenbin of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday that the Taiwan question is purely China's internal affair, and no interference from external forces will be allowed. The one-China principle is a consensus broadly shared by the international community and a basic norm of international relations, and it's the political foundation and precondition for all countries, including Italy, to establish and develop diplomatic ties with China.  

China urged the relevant politicians in Italy to clearly understand the high sensitivity of the Taiwan question, to abide by the one-China principle, and not to send wrong signals to "Taiwan independence" secessionist forces, Wang Wenbin said.

Zhong said, "Being tough toward China and hyping the Taiwan question is sort of a trend in Western political circles, as this can attract some attention, and this is why Meloni made such remarks during the election campaign. But after she formally becomes prime minister, she will be influenced by the reality of international relations and professional diplomats."

Meloni will also be unable to do anything too outrageous on China-Italy ties, even though she could make some outrageous remarks to draw attention, Zhong noted. 

Wang Shuo echoed this view, saying the power transition won't bring about a fundamental change to China-Italy relations, as both sides are very pragmatic and cooperation is driven by real benefits, and politicians in Europe, not only in Italy but also in other small European countries, will continue to make noise on the Taiwan question, but will not dare to fundamentally challenge the one-China principle.