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China's leader-in-waiting wraps up Ireland trade visit
by Staff Writers
Dublin (AFP) Feb 20, 2012

China's Vice President Xi Jinping bade farewell to Ireland on Monday after a three-day visit during which Dublin sought to provide Beijing with a financial foothold in the EU.

Ireland was the only European Union stop on the Chinese leader-in-waiting's international tour, and ministers in Dublin said it showed that the republic was the place to invest in the 27-member bloc.

Ireland stressed its low 12.5 percent corporation tax rate as well as its solid ties with the United States during Xi's visit, which ended with an Ireland-China trade and investment forum attended by 350 companies.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny said closer links would benefit both Ireland and China.

"Sometimes people question the prospect of a close partnership between a small island off the northwest coast of Europe and the world's largest nation on the opposite side of the globe," Kenny told the forum.

"But... it is a matter of knowing your strengths, and how you exercise them. That is why the prospect of greater relations between Ireland and China, in my opinion, makes perfect sense for both of our nations."

Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore said Xi had referred several times to his intention to encourage Chinese companies to invest in Ireland.

"They have identified Ireland as the country with whom they want to first of all do business with," Gilmore told RTE state radio.

Gilmore told the Financial Times that he wanted China to view Ireland "like a bridge or gateway, where there is potential not just for investment by Chinese companies or investors directly but also opportunities to build partnerships with investors in the US."

The Irish economy is slowly recovering after the eurozone member was forced to seek an 85-billion-euro ($112 billion) EU-International Monetary Fund rescue package in November 2010 after massive debt and deficit problems left the economy on the verge of collapse.

Xi arrived in Ireland on Saturday after a visit to the United States and left for Turkey after the trade forum.

Trade between China and Ireland is worth more than five billion euros ($6.6 billion) and more than 130 Irish companies now have offices in China, employing some 10,000 Chinese workers.

Four agreements were signed during the visit, aimed at facilitating closer links on trade, investment and education.

The vice president also enjoyed a taste of Emerald Isle culture, sipping an Irish coffee and trying out his skills at hurling and gaelic football at Dublin's Croke Park stadium, the cathedral of Irish sports.

He attended a performance of Riverdance, the international musical hit show based on Irish step-dancing.

And in western County Clare, he visited the famously beautiful Cliffs of Moher and a dairy farm where a new-born Friesian heifer calf was named after him.

Earlier Monday, Xi was given a red carpet welcome by President Michael D. Higgins at his official residence in Dublin, before visiting parliament.

"China and Europe are at different stages of development and have different cultures, traditions and social systems," Xi said at an official dinner Sunday at Dublin Castle.

"But as long as we treat each other as equals and follow the spirit of mutual understanding and inclusiveness, these differences are not unbridgeable.

"The fact that China and Ireland have become good friends and good partners stands out as a vivid example of this."

Xi's visit will be followed by closer diplomatic links, with four Irish government members led by Kenny due to visit to China next month.

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Tokyo (AFP) Feb 20, 2012
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