'The Chinese people cherish friendly sentiments towards this country'

Sat, Feb 18, 2012, 00:00

Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping responds to questions from “Irish Times” Beijing correspondent CLIFFORD COONANabout his visit to Ireland

Q: What is the main purpose of your visit to Ireland? What outcomes can be expected from the visit?

A:Ireland, also known as “the Emerald Isle”, is well known in China, and the Chinese people cherish friendly sentiments towards this country. Riverdancehas many Chinese fans. Theatres are packed every time the show comes to China.

The institutional innovation and economic miracles in Ireland have offered China much food for thought in conducting reform and opening up.

The sons and daughters of Irish descent enjoy the great admiration of the Chinese people with their enterprising spirit and enormous contribution to development around the world.

I visited Ireland in 2003 and was deeply impressed by the country’s natural beauty and achievements in its development. At the invitation of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, I am coming to Ireland on an official visit for an in-depth exchange of views with Irish leaders on China-Ireland relations, looking for ways to further our friendship and practical co-operation and to bring our relationship to a new high. We also hope that Ireland will play a greater role in the EU in promoting China-EU relations.

During the visit, the relevant authorities of the two countries will sign a series of co-operation documents in addition to holding the China-Ireland Trade and Investment Forum. I hope that our business communities will take the opportunity to reach some co-operation agreements and advance the solid implementation of our mutually beneficial co-operative projects.

Q: How would you describe the current state of Sino-Irish relations? What expectations do you have for bilateral co-operation in future?

A:In the past 30 years and more since the establishment of diplomatic relations, China and Ireland have always respected each other and treated each other as equals. Though different in system and culture, we have not let those differences hinder our exchanges and co-operation.

Our trade and economic relations are win-win and mutually beneficial. Two-way trade in 2011 reached US$5.87 billion (€4.5 billion). For five consecutive years, China has been Ireland’s largest trading partner in Asia. And in the past three years, Ireland has run a surplus in its trade with China.

Cultural and people-to-people exchanges between the two countries have been very fruitful. Right now, Ireland hosts over 10,000 Chinese students, more than any other EU country on a per capita basis.

To build a closer China-Ireland relationship serves the common interests of both countries and peoples. We hope that the two sides will make new progress in our co-operation in the following three areas:

First, we should maintain close high-level contacts and enhance inter-agency exchanges at various levels with a view to increasing political mutual trust and co-operation in bilateral and multilateral affairs.

Second, we should pursue common development and bring our mutually beneficial co-operation to a higher and broader level. It is of particular importance for us to fully tap the co-operation potential in biotechnology, communication technology, agriculture and other priority areas and scale up two-way trade and investment.

Third, we should intensify cultural and people-to-people exchanges. We should encourage cultural and arts groups and artists from both countries to interact and co-operate, create favourable conditions for exchanges in tourism, education and other sectors, and further elevate the level of our co-operation.

China is optimistic about the prospects of China-Ireland co-operation. We hope that the two countries will continue to support each other, learn from each other and make progress together on the path of development through co-operation.

Q: While China is enjoying fast growth, some EU countries, including Ireland, are in the midst of a sovereign debt crisis. Some EU countries face serious difficulties. In China’s view, has the EU become less important? What kind of Europe does China hope to see?

A:It is true that the EU now faces some difficulties and challenges and there are some pessimistic voices about Europe in the world, but the EU has a high degree of political consensus on overcoming difficulties and crisis and on preserving and advancing European integration.

China does not think one should “talk down” or “short” to Europe, because we believe that the difficulties facing Europe are temporary, and the EU and the governments and people across Europe have the ability, the wisdom, and the means, to solve the sovereign debt problem and achieve economic recovery and growth.

The EU is the world’s largest economy and China’s top trading partner. With the development of China-EU relations and continued expansion of bilateral co-operation, the EU will be even more important for China.

China takes its relationship with Europe as one of the strategic priorities of its diplomacy, and supports the process of European integration and the efforts of EU members, Ireland included, to overcome difficulties and achieve economic recovery.

We have offered sincere help to our European friends in line with our means, through increased mutual investment and business co-operation.

China will continue to support, in its own way, efforts of the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund in addressing the European debt problem. A Europe that is united, stable and prosperous will definitely make a valuable contribution to the strong, balanced and sustainable growth of the world economy.

Q: How would you characterise China’s development achievements?

A:China has made tremendous achievements in development over the past 60 years since the founding of the People’s Republic, particularly in the past 30 years and more since the beginning of reform and opening up. China’s GDP is now the second-largest in the world, and the livelihood of the Chinese people has improved substantially.

Once living in poverty, the 1.3 billion Chinese people today not only have adequate food and clothing, but also enjoy a life of moderate prosperity, and their right to subsistence and development has been effectively guaranteed.

Progress has also been made in improving the socialist democratic system with Chinese features, evidenced by continued expansion of political participation by the general public who make proposals on the development of the country and keep an effective watch over the work of government.

China remains the largest developing country in the world. It has a large population, a low starting point in development, and its development is uneven between its different regions. China is not rich in natural resources. Its per capita recoverable reserves of crude oil and natural gas are less than one-tenth of the world’s average, and its per capita renewable fresh-water resources only one-third of the world’s average.

China’s per capita GDP ranks below the 90th in the world, and there are still 150 million people living on less than one dollar a day. In China, any development achievement, however big, will become very small when divided by 1.3 billion, the size of its population. And any problem, however small it may be, will become very big once multiplied by 1.3 billion.

That is why China is proud of the achievements it has made through hard work and, at the same time, it is soberly aware of the problems and difficulties in the process of development.

Q: Recent statistics show the quarterly decline in China’s economic growth last year. Some worry that the slowdown in China’s economy may have a negative impact on global economic recovery. Will China continue to provide opportunities for the world with its development?

A:China’s economy grew by 10.4 per cent in 2010 and 9.2 per cent in 2011 year on year. The slowdown in China’s economic growth was, to a large extent, the result of our own macro-control measures. At the same time, the notable weakening in external demand, the slowdown in domestic investment demand, and difficulties in increasing domestic consumption all affected economic growth to varying degrees.

In each of the past five years China contributed to over 20 per cent of global growth, thus becoming an important engine for world economic development. Starting from this year, we have lowered the target of economic growth. This will help reduce the pressure in terms of price, energy, resources and the environment. It will also help us accelerate the shift in growth model and increase the quality and efficiency of economic development.

The overall approach to China’s economic and social development this year is to seek steady progress and there will not be a drastic fall in the growth rate. China is still in an important period of strategic opportunity for pursuing development, and will enjoy many favourable conditions to maintain stable and relatively fast economic growth for a fairly long period of time. In the next five years, China’s total imports will reach US$8 trillion, and its annual overseas investment will exceed US$100 billion.

This means an even bigger market and a lot more opportunities for the world and broader space for co-operation.

For Ireland and other European countries, China is a force they can co-operate with in tackling the crisis and achieving recovery, and a partner they can trust in international and multilateral affairs.