Chinese Ambassador gives an interview with the Irish Independent prior to Premier Li's transit visit to Ireland
2015-05-12 17:37


The Irish Independent reporter Ms. Geraldine Gittens: Mr. Ambassador, what do you hope will be achieved by the Chinese Premier's visit to the west of Ireland?


Ambassador Jianguo Xu: I hope Premier Li Keqiang's transit visit to Ireland this coming Sunday will achieve triple effects. A. This important visit will undoubtedly help enhance mutual understanding, mutual respect and friendship between China and Ireland. B. It will give the Taoiseach and the Premier a good opportunity to review the past records of Ireland-China relations and to exchange views and ideas on the future of our bilateral ties. C. By reaffirming both Governments' commitment to a stronger and more productive strategic partnership, the Premier and the Taoiseach will be able to sustain and boost the ongoing efforts by both sides to strengthen pragmatic cooperation and collaboration in various fields.


To help Irish people better understand the significance of Premier Li's visit to the west of Ireland, it is worth mentioning that it has been 11 years since the head of the Chinese Government set foot on Irish soil. It was in May 2004 that Mr. Li Keqiang's predecessor Premier Wen Jiabao paid a visit to Ireland. Accompanied by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Mrs. Kenny, the Premier and his wife will be visiting a dairy farm in County Mayo, which will help highlight the robust growth of Irish export of Agri-food products to China. Chinese media's news coverage on Premier Li's trip to Ireland will hopefully trigger a greater interest among Chinese people in learning more about, travelling to or doing business with Ireland.



The Irish Independent: To what extent is China interested in receiving exports of infant formula from Ireland? Is the demand great in China?


Ambassador Xu: China is the world's most populous country, with around sixteen million babies born each and every year. In terms of infant formula, there is a huge gap between what Chinese infants need and what can be provided by Chinese producers. We don't have enough cows or farms to produce the milk even though dairy products account for only a small part of Chinese diet. Since I was appointed Ambassador to Ireland, I have learned that Irish dairy products, including infant formula made from Irish milk, are of very good quality. And quality products are what the emerging Chinese middle class is after. In other words, I see great potential in Ireland's dairy sector, especially infant formula.


If proper steps are taken in the coming months and years to promote Irish-produced infant formula brands in China, to make them better known to potential consumers, the exports to China will most likely increase considerably. The demand is there and it is huge. Yet not many people in China would think of Ireland as an exporter or supplier because few have been to Ireland and a great majority of them are still unaware of Ireland's strengths in food quality and food safety or its capacity to feed a population that is over ten times of its own.



The Irish Independent: What other Irish produce is currently of great interest to China? Does China hope to increase business relations between the two countries? How so?


Ambassador Xu: Let me put it this way -- China is an importer of beef, pork, lamb, seafood and dairy products, which Ireland produce and export in considerable quantities. I know that Ireland has become a competitive player in pharmaceutical industry, medical devices manufacturing, ICT and agri-food sectors. China is indeed keen on deepening and expanding its bilateral exchanges and cooperation in trade, investment and innovation on the basis of equality and mutual benefit. Earlier this year, the Chinese Government agreed to lift its ban on imports of Irish beef, which is not only encouraging to Irish beef farmers and beef processing companies but also a strong sign of sincerity on the part of the Chinese authorities.


We do hope that the business relations between our two countries will continue to grow, at a relatively fast pace. We see Ireland as a good place for business. Obviously the Forbes magazine agrees with me on this. But as I said, we need to work harder to raise Ireland's profile and popularity, to tell millions of Chinese consumers that Ireland has what they need and can provide many high-quality products at fairly reasonable prices. It may be a time-consuming process to get a foreign nation acquainted with your own; it could be rather slow and time-consuming to make your target audience see how special and attractive you are, but it is the right thing to do. And this is a task that cannot be accomplished only by the Irish Government. Irish businessmen, Chinese residents and students in Ireland, academics as well as Irish politicians should all be motivated to make their respective contribution to this endeavour.



The Irish Independent: Have you, or a colleague of yours, been in touch with the Irish Government about making the Chinese language a Leaving Cert subject? Is it your wish that it will become a Leave Cert subject very soon?


Ambassador Xu: I'm glad that you have raised this question. To be frank, I was quite surprised when my Embassy staff told me that Chinese is the only official language of the United Nations that has not become a Leaving Cert subject. I can see a growing demand for Chinese learning and teaching here in Ireland. China-Ireland relations are better than ever, with closer and deeper economic ties and people-to-people links. An increasing number of Irish people, especially young university graduates, are genuinely interested in exploring business or career development opportunities in the vast and dynamic country of China. But if you take a look at the Leaving Cert subjects in the language category, you will see over a dozen options, but Chinese is not one of them, which I have found hard to understand.


Some people in Europe have often talked about Chinese as a "language of the future", and in this country I have seen passionate and earnest learners in two or even three generations who are from the same family. The good news is that the Irish Government probably has come to see what I see, and it added Chinese into the list of Junior Cert subjects in 2014.


It will probably take some time for different government agencies to reach a consensus on the status of Chinese in this country. It might take a lot of time to get people's attention, opinions and support; it would certainly take time to review the existing regulations and attempt to build consensus. I fully understand that this is a potentially time-consuming process. I am not an impatient person, but, as you can easily understand, I'd be happier if some positive changes could be brought about sooner.  If the Irish Government sees a need for additional qualified Chinese language teachers or more teaching and learning materials for second language learners, I am confident that the Chinese Government and universities can offer some help. As Chinese Ambassador, I would welcome and be open to specific proposals in this regard.



The Irish Independent: Mr. Ambassador, do you have any hopes or wishes in terms of China-Ireland bilateral relations?


Ambassador Xu: When I look into the future, I am full of hope because China-Ireland relations have never been better and both Governments are committed to maintaining the positive momentum. I sincerely hope, and honestly believe, that the friendly bilateral relations between two countries will continue to develop, and that mutual understanding and friendship between Irish people and Chinese people can be further enhanced. China already regards Ireland as a valuable partner in Europe. As long as both sides continue to follow the principle of mutual respect, mutual accommodation, and treating each other as equals with sincerity and a view to strengthening and expanding mutually beneficial cooperation, we can build China-Ireland relationship into a truly substantiated Strategic Partnership that transcends the limits and constraints arising from differences in political system, culture and ideology.






Jianguo Xu is Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People's Republic of China to Ireland.  He previously served as China's Ambassador to Georgia, Nigeria and New Zealand