China's leader-in-waiting Xi arrives in Ireland

DUBLIN: China's leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping arrived for a three-day visit to Ireland on Saturday after pledging continued support from the Asian power for the EU's efforts to tackle its debts.

The Chinese vice president was greeted by Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore at Shannon Airport, western Ireland, after flying in from the United States where he met with President Barack Obama.

Xi, who is expected to lead the rising Asian power for a decade starting next year, was to sign several cooperation agreements during the visit, which comes nine years after his first trip to the eurozone member.

Ahead of his arrival, Xi told the Irish Times he believed the economic problems facing the European Union, Beijing's biggest trading partner, would eventually pass.

"China does not think one should 'talk down' or 'short' to Europe, because we believe that the difficulties facing Europe are temporary," the vice president said in an interview.

"The EU and the governments and people across Europe have the ability, the wisdom, and the means to solve the sovereign debt problem and achieve economic recovery and growth.

"We have offered sincere help to our European friends in line with our means, through increased mutual investment and business cooperation," he told the newspaper.

"China will continue to support, in its own way, efforts of the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund in addressing the European debt problem."

Arriving at Shannon, Xi said the main purpose of the visit was to "deepen the traditional friendship" between the countries and to have an "in-depth exchange of views" on the further development of China-Ireland relations.

Gilmore said Ireland attached "great importance to widening and deepening" bilateral relations and the visit would be an "opportunity to promote and expand the strong business ties between China and Ireland".

Xi's trip follows high-profile visits to Ireland last year by Obama and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.

Xi will hold talks with Prime Minister Enda Kenny on Sunday and attend an Ireland-China trade forum in Dublin on Monday involving about 300 companies.

He will also visit an economic development zone in Shannon, the famously beautiful Cliffs of Moher on the west coast, a dairy farm and a demonstration of Gaelic games, Ireland's traditional sports.

Xi's visit is regarded as "highly significant" by the Irish government which hopes exports will be the key to its economic recovery and is eager to boost trade with China.

Ireland was severely battered by the global financial crisis and forced to seek an 85-billion-euro ($112 billion) EU-IMF rescue package in November 2010 after massive debts left its economy on the brink of collapse.

After Ireland, Xi will visit Turkey before returning home.

- AFP/de

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