China in our hands
TAOISEACH Enda Kenny is to visit two of the world's biggest power bases within days of each other next month.
Mr Kenny has confirmed that he will make a historic trip to China in March in a bid to bolster Irish trade, just days after the annual St Patrick's Day trip to Washington.
Government sources believe the trips have the potential to generate thousands of jobs for the Irish economy.
The news comes as the Chinese Vice President concluded his historic visit to our shores today, having signed a number of lucrative trade deals with the Irish government.
Xi Jinping was due to leave Ireland today having opened up the multi-billion euro Chinese market to Irish exporters.
The three-day visit by Mr Xi - who is widely expected to become Chinese president later this year - was hailed as a success by the Government.
During his talks with Mr Kenny, he raised the possibility of the Taoiseach bringing a trade mission to China. Mr Kenny is now expected to travel with political and business leaders in March.
Four trade agreements were signed during Mr Xi's whistlestop tour. These included the linking up of the business and education sectors between Ireland and China, as well a new agreement which will eradicate red tape in both countries.
The Tanaiste said today that he believed the trips by the Chinese vice-premier will translate to investments and job creation.
"The Vice President said a number of times directly that he and the Chinese government intend to encourage Chinese businesses to invest in Ireland. Given the way in which Chinese society is organised, that's a very powerful statement, a very powerful message to Chinese companies and I expect that that will translate to investment decisions and jobs," he told RTE's Morning Ireland.
"We had specific discussions about a number of areas, opening up the Chinese market to Irish beef which has been closed for quite some time, over ten years.
"What we have established is the Chinese government is highly interested in Europe first of all ... secondly they have identified Ireland as the country with whom they want to do business."
Mr Xi seemed to thoroughly enjoy his visit - attending a Riverdance spectacle and even playing gaelic football.
He commended the Irish people for standing "closely together" during the economic crisis and said the two countries had become "good friends".
Mr Xi met with President Michael D Higgins at the Aras today before an Ireland-China Trade and Investment forum, attended by 300 Irish and Chinese business leaders.
However human rights campaigners have criticised the Government for not raising specific concerns about abuses in China.
Amnesty's International Colm O'Gorman said: "The repression on freedom in China, on human rights in China is truly extraordinary."
Meanwhile, Ireland was hailed as a congenial and welcoming nation in Chinese media reports today, which all carried photos of Xi Jinping's visit.
While most newspapers and TV stations emphasised the importance of developing strong relations between the two countries, photos of Mr Xi meeting Irish families and learning about Gaelic games denominated reports.
China Central Television (CCTV), the state television broadcaster, carried pictures of the Vice President's trip to James Lynch's farm near Shannon this weekend.
The station, which broadcasts in English all over the world, reported that the Vice President was given an opportunity to "taste Irish coffee" and "chat with a traditional Irish family".