TDs are warned contact with Taiwan ‘will offend China’
Ceann Comhairle claims State adheres to ‘one China’ policy in letter to Deputies
The flag of Taiwan. The Ceann Comhairle said the Taiwan issue ‘is a very important one for our Chinese friends’. Photograph: Getty Images
The Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, has warned TDs and Senators that contacts with Taiwan will offend the Chinese government, and could damage Ireland’s business and diplomatic relationship with China.
Mr Ó Fearghaíl wrote to TDs and Senators on Tuesday to say that Ireland adheres to the “one China” policy and does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which Beijing insists is a part of China to be reunited one day. China frowns on any contact between other governments and Taipei.
Mr Ó Fearghaíl said that “active engagement” between members of the Oireachtas and Taiwan was in conflict with the one China policy, and was “a danger to Ireland’s national interest”.
However, his warnings have been rejected by Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness, who is chairman of the Ireland-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Society. Mr McGuinness organises contacts between the Oireachtas and Taiwan, including an annual trip to the country. He says that the group observes the one China policy and exists only to promote trade between Ireland and Taiwan and to foster educational and cultural links.
In his letter the Ceann Comhairle lauds the strengthening of links between Ireland and China in recent years, and points to the potential for future trade links.
“The growth and expansion of trade with China has been hugely beneficial to Ireland, its economy and its people, and is one of our finest success stories in recent times,” Mr Ó Fearghaíl wrote. “That economic expansion should be nurtured, and not even inadvertently undermined.”
He says the Taiwan issue “is a very important one for our Chinese friends”, and that contacts with Taiwan could damage relations between Ireland and China.
“I have no intention of telling Oireachtas members who they can meet or what functions they can attend,” he said. “However, I am aware that there continues to be engagement between some Oireachtas members and the Taiwanese authorities.
“This can cause serious offence and grave concern to our Chinese friends, and has the potential to cause serious damage to Ireland’s developing relationship with China as well as being a danger to Ireland’s national interest.”
Mr McGuinness said Mr Ó Fearghaíl had “overstepped the mark”.
“I don’t know where he’s going with this,” he said.
In recent years, the Dáil and Seanad have seen a strengthening of links at economic, trade, education, cultural and parliamentary level with China, which is to be warmly welcomed. The Oireachtas has worked to develop parliamentary links between Ireland and China, welcoming a number of very high-level delegations to Ireland. I led an Oireachtas delegation to China earlier this year, during which we saw the further huge potential for greater trade links between Ireland and China, to Ireland’s considerable advantage. Cultural links are strong and record numbers of Chinese students are choosing to further their studies in Irish universities and colleges. Direct flights open up China as a tourist destination and allow for stronger person to person engagement, all of which is to be supported.
As chair of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and of the Dáil Business Committee, I write to respectfully remind members of the current position with regard to Taiwan. This issue is a very important one for our Chinese friends and I would remind members that Ireland, along with all other EU states, as well as the EU itself, adheres to the One China policy. As a result, Ireland does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Furthermore, Taiwan is not a Member State of the United Nations or any of its subsidiary bodies. Ireland does, however, engage with Taiwan on an economic and cultural basis.
Ireland’s adherence to the One China policy, in place since 1971, has been a crucial component in the successful development of trade between Ireland and China. Total trade with China in 2016 was worth €12.90bn. This is an increase of 14% compared to 2015, and Ireland enjoys a trade surplus of €4.56bn with China (2016 figure). I am always particularly struck by the fact that, as an example, the small island of Ireland is the largest exporter of baby milk formula to China. These are important statistics and show the level of economic engagement between Ireland and China, which continues to grow year on year, to Ireland’s great benefit. In short, the growth and expansion of trade with China has been hugely beneficial to Ireland, its economy and its people, and is one of our finest success stories in recent times. That economic expansion should be nurtured, and not even inadvertently undermined.
Active engagement between members of the Oireachtas and Taiwan can damage the relations between Ireland and China and is in conflict to the long-standing One China policy. As Ceann Comhairle, I have no intention of telling Oireachtas members who they, as elected public representatives, can meet or what functions they can attend. That would never be my wish. However, I am aware that there continues to be engagement between some Oireachtas members and the Taiwanese authorities. This can cause serious offence and grave concern to our Chinese friends and has the potential to cause serious damage to Ireland’s developing relationship with China as well as being a danger to Ireland’s national interest. I write to members merely to remind them of the One China policy long in place, and to highlight the implications that a parliamentary engagement with the Taiwanese authorities can have on the excellent relations currently enjoyed by Ireland with China.
If you wish to discuss this further with me, my door is always open to members.
Kind regards and best wishes,
Seán Ó Fearghaíl, TD