In “The Year of The Dragon” Opportunity Beckons
Xi Jingping, vice president of the People’s Republic of China has arrived in Ireland for a three day visit. Having flown into Shannon airport, the Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore welcomed the man widely tipped to be the next President of China and leader of the communist state. The trip is being treated as a significant event for Sino-Irish relations, an opportunity for Ireland to boost trade links with the worlds second largest economy and as a chance to “widen and deepen bilateral relations” by improving social and cultural ties.
The Chinese delegation which includes 150 businessmen are expected to sign various trade deals on the visit. Sectors of particular interest include biotechnology, agriculture, communications, food, education and tourism, which could all reap monetary benefits in the future for our ailing economy. The significance of the trip cannot be underestimated as Ireland has been chosen as the only European destination for the tour which includes the United States and Turkey next week.
That is the interesting point after all, why Ireland? Mr Xi has been here before, in the mid nineties he visited as a senior cadre from the boom province of Zhejiang. The Chinese have always been interested in our economic model as they were back then but this trip appears to be something different. From the Irish side, the government are promoting Ireland as a gateway to Europe, a strategic location with access to the worlds largest economy (EU) but one must question what has China to gain from our tiny island with it’s little International relevance.
The answer to that question may lie in our food sector. China feeds 20% of the worlds population, a whopping 1.3 billion people and the demands of their new middle class for high grade protein products, such as milf powder and beef, may prove to be an area where Irish food producing expertise can help with meeting Chinese consumer demand. Last week The US and China signed treaties on sustainable food production, so it would make sense to anticipate an interest in the finest bread basket of Europe, “The Emerald Isle”.
The pharmaceutical industry is also of key importance on this visit. Maintaining large supply’s of technologically advanced medicines will be become extremely important to China’s future. Being the largest holder of foreign cash reserves on the planet, China is a high profile buyer testing the markets, attempting to get bang for their buck and with that in mind, Ireland is a particularly savvy market choice that can deliver quality, price and sustainability in the distribution of high grade pharma-products.
One must also wonder whether Ryanair’s interest in purchasing several hundred Chinese produced Comac planes has anything to do with the visit. Micheal O’Leary has been trumpeting the success and resources deployed by the Chinese government for quite some time now and if his company finalizes the projected deal, it will be a major international achievement for the state run Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China Ltd. The economic relevance of the visit is enormous, an opportunity the government cannot afford to mess up but there are other issues our political leaders must bring to the forefront in the China conversation.
Human rights campaigning has been a long standing tradition in this country and an area where we have lead by example on the International stage, so it would be misguided to throw this history by the way side in pursuit of political posturing and economic benefit. China has an appalling tradition on human rights issues and it is paramount that the Taoiseach annihilates his political puppetry and spin campaign to the background of this visit and pursues China properly on these issues. Diplomacy in subjects like these is a balancing act that takes skill and shrewdness to maneuver through the traditional and cultural complexities that mark differences of opinion, and if Enda Kenny is worth his salt, he will be acutely aware of this. This is a representational matter for Ireland and a vista where we hold a surprising amount of clout internationally, because of this, our government must persist on the correct form action on human rights issues and not let the carrot lead the stick when it comes to pressing China on crimes against humanity.