Ireland-China relations: Exporting beef or principles?

Message understood to mean, as clearly intended given its recipient, that the reopening of China to Ireland’s beef exports is now in jeopardy

 

It was notable that during his 2014 China trip President Michael D Higgins’s usually unconstrained championing of human rights and the underdog was muted. He quoted from George Bernard Shaw in Shanghai in 1933 – “It is not for me, belonging as I do to a quarter of the globe which is mismanaging its affairs in a ruinous fashion to pretend to advise an ancient people striving to set its house in order” – suggesting, as his grateful hosts will have noted, that Ireland understood that China does not appreciate public criticism.

A pro forma acknowledgment of difficulties on human rights would be about all we would get, nothing to upset the talks on burgeoning trade and agriculture links. China’s reputation for bullying international critics, leveraging trade when necessary, was well understood.

Fast forward to March 2016 and a rare and welcome declaration by 12 states to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) delivered by the US. It was joined by Australia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK in denouncing China’s recent rights crackdown and detentions of up to 250 lawyers and activists since last summer – most have been released, including five Hong Kong booksellers forced to confess on mainland TV their “crimes” of smuggling illicit books.

In the week that China closed down internet links to stories about their leaders’ connections with Panama-linked offshore companies, it is worth noting that the booksellers’ real crime was publishing books on China’s elite, using a mix of rumour and pure fiction. One, The General Secretary’s Eight Love Stories, claims that President Xi Jinping has had numerous affairs, including one with a TV presenter. That’s subversion!

Last month China also reacted strongly at the UNHRC, of which, bizarrely, given its record, it is a member. Chinese diplomat Fu Cong accused the US of hypocrisy with no little chutzpah, and said it was guilty of crimes including the rape and murder of civilians. “The US is notorious for prison abuse at Guantánamo prison, its gun violence is rampant, racism is its deep-rooted malaise.”

And, it appears, China also cranked up its diplomatic machine, dispatching a message through a “mid-ranking” official to the Department of Agriculture to the effect that our siding with the “gang of 12” could have consequences.

Although Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan insists “no explicit linkage has been drawn by the Chinese”, the message was understood to mean, as clearly intended given its recipient, that the reopening of China to Ireland’s beef exports was now in jeopardy.

The Minister may plead we were doing no more than echoing long-standing EU policy, about which China was well aware, but a confident Beijing these days has no qualms about throwing its weight around. And we should not be bullied.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.