May 22, 2015, by Tony Hong

If you’re Chinese, come into the Parlor

By David O’Brien
Assistant Professor, School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham Ningbo.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang this week began a major trip of four South American nations with trade and investment top of his agenda.

Over the next few days Mr Li will visit the continent’s leading powers Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Columbia and Chile as China seeks to further increase its already considerable links with the region.

But there was also another stop on the Premier’s itinerary. Like Chinese leaders before him Mr Li was unable to resist the attraction of a stop-over in Ireland.

Last December during his state visit to China Irish President Michael D Higgins invited the Prime Minister to Ireland and just a few months later Mr Li was happy to take up the invitation.

It’s not the first time one of China’s top leaders has broken a long journey with a stopover on the Emerald Isle. Back in February 2012 then vice-President Xi Jinping stopped off in Ireland for three days while on route from the US to Turkey.

By all accounts Mr Xi enjoyed himself immensely, trying his hand at the traditional sports of hurling and Gaelic football, attending a medieval banquet held in his honour at a castle in County Clare and enjoying an Irish Coffee in the home of a local farmer where he even had a calf named after him.

During this week’s visit, Mr Li, who was accompanied by his wife Prof Cheng Hong as well as Foreign Affairs Minster Wang Yi, also paid a visit to a farm.

On the Garvey family’s 107-hecter dairy farm they were treated to home-made bread, cheese and milk along with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and his wife Fionnula.

Xinhua quoted the premier as saying “Ireland boasts a developed agricultural and husbandry industry, with well-established service standards and advanced managerial and technical expertise”.

Noting that China has become Ireland’s fastest-growing agro-product export market, Li said, the two countries enjoy a strong complementarity and a bright future in agricultural and husbandry cooperation.

And to raise spirits even higher it was announced that China is to lift a ban on Irish beef imports which had been in place for the past 17 years following the so-called “Mad Cow” disease controversy of the last 1990s.

The only downer was the lousy weather, it poured rain steadily for most of the day.

Premier Li and President Xi are the latest in a long line of Chinese leaders to visit Ireland.

Premier Zhu Rongji; Premier Wen Jiabao; Vice Premier Huang Ju and Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan have all visited in the past.

In a previous blog article I quoted Irish journalist Conor O’Cleary on the visit of a Chinese delegation back in the early 1980s led by Jiang Zemin who would of course rise to the very top, and it’s worth including it here again.

“I’m told they were also very impressed with the informality of their Irish hosts, who took them to Durty Nellies pub afterwards for a sing-song – which may explain the warmth with which the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was greeted by President Jiang in Beijing in 1998.”

Irish tourist industry chiefs were rubbing their hands in glee at the happy pictures coming from Ireland which led many of the evening news programmes back in China.

Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said: “China is an important emerging travel market and one that Tourism Ireland is committed to growing over the coming years.”

“With Ireland very much in the news spotlight in China during Mr Li’s time here, Tourism Ireland will take every opportunity to maximise the tourism benefits of his visit. Our aim is to grow the number of Chinese visitors to Ireland to 50,000 per year, by 2017.”

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