The Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has welcomed Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping to Ireland at the start of his three-day official visit.
Mr Xi touched down in Shannon Airport earlier today.
“We look forward to a most successful visit over the next couple of days,” Mr Gilmore told him on his arrival.
“Shannon Airport, on the western shore of our island, is a fitting starting point for your visit, a doorway to east and to west that has generated strong relationships with China over the years.
“Later we will visit Shannon Development, one of the models which your own country looked to when it embarked on its own economic reforms.
“This evening I will have the honour to host you at a traditional Irish banquet and entertainment at Bunratty Castle.”
Mr Gilmore said the vice-president will see the strength and excellence of the agricultural sector during the visit to a typical Irish family farm and enjoy the beauty of Ireland’s landscape, the country’s rich sporting heritage and celebrate Irish dance and music.
“Mr vice president, Ireland attaches great importance to widening and deepening our bilateral relations,” he continued.
“We trust that this visit will be an enjoyable one for you and that it will be the starting point of an enhanced relationship between China and Ireland. ”Mr vice president, ’cead mile failte’,“ Mr Gilmore added.
Mr Xi has just completed a five-day trip to the US. The 58-year-old, China’s leader-in-waiting, is expected to sign off on a number of “door-opening” agreements to boost trade with Ireland.
Both Mr Gilmore and Taoiseach Enda Kenny are also under pressure to tackle him on China’s human rights record.
Amnesty International has branded the country the world’s number one executioner and warned its treatment of activists is appalling.
The vice president’s trip will begin with a briefing at Shannon Development business park, the country’s only dedicated regional development company, before he and his 150-strong delegation attend a medieval banquet at Bunratty Castle in Co Clare.
Tomorrow Mr Xi’s will visit a dairy farm in Limerick and the Cliffs of Moher in Clare before flying to Dublin and visiting Croke Park and seeing a special performance of Riverdance.
He will met President Michael D Higgins and attend an Ireland-China Investment Forum before he leaves on Monday.
Jobs and trade will be the focus the trip for the Government, Mr Xi and his delegation of business leaders and government officials.
Dr Vincent Cunnane, Shannon Development chief executive, said the trip will enhance good relations between Irish and Chinese businesses and linkages between Shannon Development and China, which began in 1980.
“China has a population of over 1.3 billion which represents 20% of the world’s population,” he said.
“The fact that the Chinese vice president is spending almost three days in Ireland is a major boost for the Country.
“The visit to Bunratty Castle and indeed the Cliffs of Moher will have an enormous impact on Ireland’s tourism promotional efforts in China.”
Mr Xi is widely expected to succeed president Hu Jintao, who must retire as head of the Communist Party later this year and from the presidency in 2013.
It is expected he will sign a number of trade agreements with the Government tomorrow to help Irish businesses sell into China and vice-versa.
The Irish Falun Dafa Association plan to stage a protest outside Dublin Castle during the official ceremony.
Amnesty International Ireland also said it was crucial the Government makes clear the concerns of many Irish people about human rights abuses.
Among the cases Amnesty has asked the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to raise are those of Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, found guilty of inciting subversion of state power, and human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who is in state custody, and whose relatives have been told is undergoing a three-month “education period”.
However Mr Gilmore hopes to sell Ireland to Mr Xi as a strategically located country within the European Union, which is part of the eurozone but also as a “bridge” to Africa and the US.
The Government’s “Asia strategy” has highlighted lucrative opportunities to export food and drink to China, particularly for the country’s growing middle classes who have increasingly more money to spend.
Other industries being targeted are pharmaceuticals, IT, medical devices, tourism and education.
There have also been suggestions of possible cooperation on alternative energy research.