Visit puts spotlight on China trade

Over these past few days Chinese president Xi Jinping with his wife and entourage were being royally hosted with pomp and circumstance in the UK. It was the first visit to the UK in over 10 years by a Chinese president.

Interestingly, he visited Ireland in 2012 for three days when he was vice president.

It was seen at the time as a landmark visit and it was hoped it would lead to much needed investment.

In the UK this week it was clearly seen by guests and hosts alike that the reception being accorded to President Xi Jinping, which included a carriage ride with the Queen and afternoon tea with the Prince of Wales, was right and proper.

Who can blame the hosts? For those trying to run and build up a struggling economy on the periphery of Europe, China can look very attractive indeed.

China, or the People’s Republic of China as it’s officially called, is the most populous country in the world with over 1.35bn people.

That is over 2.5 times the population of the European Union. That’s some market.

It’s the world’s second largest economy with its nominal GDP being in the region of $10.38 trillion (€9.14 tn). It’s the world’s largest trading power with an international trade value of $3.87 tn in 2012.

In 2012, it was also the world’s largest recipient of FDI, attracting a total of $253bn, and we thought Ireland was doing well.

But more importantly it also invests overseas itself with an outflow of $64bn in 2014, which included takeovers of foreign firms.

The top destination for that investment was the US at $9bn. Russia was second, with an investment of $7 bn.

Recently, we saw the announcement of the Chinese aircraft leasing company’s intention to locate in Dublin.

In the last few years we’ve seen Chinese investors take over troubled hotels here. One wonders whether more will come.

In 2014, Fortune magazine’s Global 500 of the largest corporations in the world included 95 Chinese companies, with total revenues of $5.8tn.

Indeed, in 2014 also, Forbes reported that five of the world’s ten largest public companies were Chinese.

According to the 2015 fDi Report China is now the world’s third largest outward direct investor and the major drivers for overseas investment have been identified as the search for resources and technology.

It would also appear nowadays that it’s not just the state sector which is investing abroad but also the burgeoning private sector, since outbound investment restrictions have been relaxed somewhat.

In other words, there are now folk investing for the sake of making money rather than some political rationale.

It also has the most students studying overseas of any country and has, interestingly, the highest spending tourists on overseas trips.

What are we doing to attract some of the obvious opportunities?

The flip side of course is that it has a poor human rights record.

Its treatment of Tibet is uner the spotlight; it executes more prisoners every year than anywhere else in the world; it is a one-party state; it has no freedom of the press or free speech.

China has also been accused of hacking into computers far and wide.

It appears to have ambitions to stake out control of all of the China Sea, even those areas far outside the normal limits, allegedly it has something to do with potential future oil exploration.

The question is do we let all those unsavoury aspects get in the way of potential investment into Ireland, including creating jobs for our citizens and making markets for our products.

Over the last few days we’ve seen the pictures of the president’s loyal supporters welcoming him to the UK.

On the other hand we’ve seen the pictures of protestors, Chinese and others, being kept by the police well out of the way.

The opportunity for the UK economy is far too great to let a minority spoil it for the majority. It may be cynical but that’s the way it is.

Despite protests, senior Irish delegations including senior ministers have also travelled to China seeking business opportunities.

The general view would appear to be to develop working relationships and then to work on getting change on those issues that upset us.


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