President Xi Jinping last visited Ireland two years ago as vice president and said yesterday: “I’m very glad since my visit in 2012 that bilateral relations between our two countries have gone to the next level in many areas, in particular, trade.”
He then accepted President Higgins’s invitation.
During the meeting, President Xi said he hoped this visit marked the starting point for taking co-operation between the countries even further.
He pointed to the fact that this year marks “35 years since bilateral relations began between China and Ireland” and said he hoped it would be the “starting point for taking cooperation to a new level”.
Mr Higgins is in China for an official state visit and has been afforded full state honours.
He was received with a state banquet at the Great Hall of the People, in Tiananmen Square, by the Chinese president and first lady, Peng Li Wean.
Scores of adjoining tricolours and the red flag of China adorned the streets of the Forbidden City in welcome of the Irish delegation; an acknowledging sign of the growing trust between the two countries.
Several areas of interest and cooperation were discussed at the meeting, including matters of regional and international concern.
The visit to China by the Irish head of state marks an auspicious time for Irish business in the world’s largest economy, where opportunities for trade and cooperation, including education and culture are growing steadily, and opportunities for further investment in agri-foods and financial services appear on the horizon.
Accompanying the President was Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, who signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs. The National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) and Beijing’s prestigious Tsing Hua University — the two universities associated with the respective presidents, also committed to partner in educational programming.
Among the issues tipped to be raised during the visit was China’s oft-criticised human rights record.
“We discussed human rights; but it was in a positive context. The language that you would use to deal with issues that one mightn’t agree on is important,” remarked the President after the meeting.
“Ireland is involved in advocacy against the death penalty,” said the President. “I am, whether I am speaking in the United States or I’m speaking in China.”
Discussed at the bilateral meeting of the two heads of state was the achievement of universal education, gender equality and the economic social and political rights, said Mr Higgins.
“There are different constitutions; there is advanced constitutions like the South African constitution, which we discussed, and then there’s the constitution on the People’s Republic of China. Rights have to take into account the context.”
Later this week President Higgins will meet China’s richest man, Jack Ma, founder of a successful e-commerce business that doesn’t have a European headquarters. The meeting is viewed as a recognition of Ireland’s potential as a player in the knowledge economy.