Wang Yiwei: China, Ireland step up cooperation during Li’s visit


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Wang Yiwei: China, Ireland step up cooperation during Li’s visit


Source: GT Published: 2024-01-17

Chinese Premier Li Qiang met separately with Irish President Michael D. Higgins and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Wednesday in Dublin, where the two countries pledged to strengthen bilateral cooperation in a wide range of areas, including trade, investment, climate change and people-to-people exchanges. Notably, China waived visa requirements for Irish nationals traveling to the country.

The Chinese premier arrived in Ireland on Tuesday, the last leg of his four-day trip to Europe that included an official visit to Switzerland. He also attended the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in the Swiss resort town of Davos, where he met with EU officials. This is Li's second trip to Europe in less than a year, underscoring the importance China attaches to China-Europe ties.

Experts said that China and Ireland have maintained sound bilateral ties and economic and trade cooperation thanks to the EU country's neutral political stance, compared to the hostile sentiment of some other EU members. While China-EU ties have encountered some difficulties, there is still common ground and great potential for both sides to manage differences and advance cooperation, and countries like Ireland can play a positive role in that, experts noted.

During the meeting, Li spoke of the great potential for China-Ireland cooperation and China stands ready to deepen cooperation with Ireland in the fields of economy, trade, investment, green development and scientific and technological innovation, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday.

China will also strengthen educational, cultural and other people-to-people and cultural exchanges to further facilitate personnel exchanges between the two countries and the two countries should jointly safeguard a free and open international trading system, Li said.

For his part, Higgins said Ireland stands ready to strengthen friendly exchanges with China to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation and jointly meet climate change, food security, sustainable development and other global challenges.

Li also met with Varadkar on Wednesday, and said that China and Ireland should adhere to mutual benefit, and always regard each other as key cooperative partners. Li announced that China will apply a unilateral visa-free policy to Ireland to facilitate personnel exchanges between the two countries, according to Xinhua.

Varadkar said that Ireland stands ready to expand two-way investment with China, strengthen cooperation in agriculture, food, innovation, green development and other fields, and deepen people-to-people exchanges in education, culture and other areas. He also said that Ireland always abides by the one-China principle, and hopes that China will achieve peaceful reunification at an early date, Xinhua reported.

The Chinese premier's trip to Ireland has boosted expectations for greater cooperation among businesses in both countries. 'Premier Li's Europe trip, the first of his overseas visits in 2024, is a great start. I think both Irish and Chinese business communities have high expectations that this will lay a very good and solid foundation for economic and trade development between the two countries,' Zhang Zhewei, director of the China Investment and Development Agency of Ireland, told the Global Times.

China and Ireland have maintained close economic and trade ties. China is also Ireland's largest trading partner in the Asia-Pacific. Bilateral trade reached more than $20.13 billion in the first 11 months of 2023, with Ireland maintaining a substantial trade surplus with China, according to data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs (GAC). Data for the full year has not been released by the GAC.

'As one the very few neutral countries in the EU, Ireland has maintained very sound and stable relations with China,' Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Wednesday, noting that there is great potential for bilateral cooperation in areas such as digital innovation and climate change.

Wang said that Ireland's 'neutrality' and its focus on 'openness' rather than protectionism mean that it could act as a bridge between China and the EU. 'This makes it more likely that Ireland can play an important role in China-EU relations,' he said.

China-EU ties in focus

Recently, China-EU relations have been in focus, as bilateral ties have encountered some difficulties, particularly with some in the EU calling for 'de-risking,' with the EU launching anti-subsidy probes into Chinese new-energy vehicles (NEV). Still, both sides have maintained frequent diplomatic exchanges.

While in Davos for the WEF's annual meeting, Li met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday. The Chinese premier said that China stands ready to import more products from the EU that align with market demand, and hopes the EU will relax export restrictions on high-tech products to China. He urged the EU to uphold justice, compliance and transparency in economic and trade matters, and treat Chinese enterprises fairly, according to Xinhua.

For her part, von der Leyen said the EU appreciates China's continuous opening up and that the bloc does not intend to decouple from China, Xinhua reported.

Notably, Li's trip to Ireland marked the second occasion he has visited the EU in less than a year. In July 2023, Li visited Germany and France for his first official overseas trip after becoming China's premier.

'I think China-EU relations will remain very important in the future,' Cui Hongjian, a professor with the Academy of Regional and Global Governance with Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Cui pointed out that while there have been some 'unrealistic remarks' and 'unrealistic concerns' from the EU side, the fundamentals of economic and trade cooperation between the two sides are still very solid. 'For many industries in many countries, it is in their best interests to continue to cooperate with China. This is the consensus of most European countries and companies,' he said.

However, China-EU ties will continue to face some risks and challenges, including political shifts within the EU and the EU's over-emphasis on geopolitics, according to experts.

Differences between the two sides were on vivid display at the WEF annual meeting in Davos. In his special address, Li mostly focused on rebuilding global trust and cooperation and reassuring global businesses about China's economic prospects and openness. In contrast, von der Leyen's remarks in Davos 'were laden with Western maxims,' according to Politico.

Cui said that it is critical for both sides to find reasonable ways to handle tensions in bilateral trade. As for the EU's probe against Chinese NEVs, he said that companies are making 'full preparation' to respond and the Chinese government is trying to communicate with the EU side through different channels.