Taoiseach hails new phase in relationship with China


AFTER NEW economic links covering trade and investment were signed last night, Taoiseach Enda Kenny welcomed a new phase in the relationship between Ireland and China at a dinner at Dublin Castle in honour of the country’s vice- president, Xi Jinping.

Hosting the dinner for Mr Xi, Mr Kenny said: “I look forward to opening a new chapter in the close and warm relationship between Ireland and China.”

The Taoiseach welcomed an invitation to visit China. “I would like to thank vice- president Xi for his invitation to visit China in March. I hope it is the first of many visits.”

Mr Xi had extended the invitation in talks with the Government before the dinner, and he repeated it in his own speech to the dinner guests.

As a result there is speculation now that the Taoiseach will indeed visit the People’s Republic next month, despite the fact that he will also be travelling to the US for the traditional St Patrick’s Day events.

Shortly before the dinner, which was also attended by the North’s First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Mr Kenny and Mr Xi attended the signing of agreements between Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton and China’s vice- minister of commerce, Gao Hucheng.

The first was a memorandum of understanding on co-operation between the business sectors in both countries. Enterprise Ireland will be the key Irish body in strengthening this new trade relationship.

The other agreement was to set up a specially mandated working group to facilitate future investment and remove any obstacles impeding bilateral investment opportunities.

After five days in the US last week, including talks with president Barack Obama, Mr Xi, who is in line to become China’s leader in the near future, is spending three days in Ireland before going to Turkey.

A trade and investment forum at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham will be the main feature of today’s events.The Government is making much of the fact that Ireland is the only EU member state that the Chinese leader has opted to visit on this international tour.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore told reporters the choice of Ireland as a destination was “a very powerful signal that Ireland is the place in the EU with which to do business”.

He said there were plans for himself and the Taoiseach, as well as Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn and Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney, to pay separate visits to China this year.

There has been little sign of tension on the issue of China’s human rights record. Asked if he had raised the issue, the Tánaiste said, “Yes, in the context of our candidacy for the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, and I underlined the importance Ireland attaches to human rights and our view that human rights are universal.”

The Chinese visitors have made no direct public contact with the media, allowing photographs to be taken only at selected venues and avoiding any form of press conference where questions could be asked.

In a lighter moment Mr Xi tried his hand at hurling during a tour of Croke Park and then energitically kicked a Gaelic football.

This morning, Mr Xi meets President Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin.