Higgins begins state visit to China with tour of Forbidden City

Mission will include meetings with top political and business leaders

President Michael D Higgins and his wife  Sabina Higgins are shown around the Forbidden City in  Beijing. Photograph: Shane O’Neill/Fennell Photography

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins are shown around the Forbidden City in Beijing. Photograph: Shane O’Neill/Fennell Photography

 

President Michael D Higgins began his high-profile state visit to China with a tour of the Forbidden City at the heart of the capital Beijing, on a mission which will include meetings with the country’s top political and business leaders.

The week-long visit comes at a time of growing economic closeness between Ireland and China and when the Irish Government and Irish companies are keen to expand political, cultural, business, scientific and educational relations with the world’s most populous nation and its second biggest economy.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV interviewed the President and he will attend a number of events for local media during his mission, which will take in three cities – the capital Beijing, the financial hub Shanghai and the nearby city of Hangzhou.

He will have meetings with the President Xi Jinping, who visited Ireland in 2012 when he was still vice-president, Prime Minister Li Keqiang and the Chairman of the National People’s Congress, Zhang Dejiang.

Accompanying the President on this three city visit to Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou are his wife Sabina, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charles Flanagan.

Mr Higgins was greeted at Beijing Capital International Airport by the Irish Ambassador Paul Kavanagh and his wife Rosemary.

On Monday, he will begin the day with a visit to the Badaling section of the Great Wall, not far from the city – sure to be a bracing event given the sub-zero temperatures in the capital, although the city’s notorious pollution readings have stayed low.

Over the course of the day, he will attend an number of cultural events, including attending the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Arts in the city’s trendy 798 Art District.

He will open an exhibition organised by the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland, ‘Irish Design 2015’.

In the evening he will attend a concert by Irish artists, including musician Sharon Shannon and the poet Paula Meehan, at the Concert Hall in the Forbidden City.

President Higgins will take part in a number of events organised agencies such as Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland, IDA, Tourism Ireland, Culture Ireland, the Science Foundation of Ireland, the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland, as well as representatives from the universities.

It is the first state visit by an Irish head of state since an 2003, when Mary McAleese was in China, although she also made an official visit in 2010 to attend the Irish pavilion at the Expo.