Irish beef exports to China to resume following premier’s visit

Irish beef exports to China are to resume as part of measures agreed during a bilateral meeting of senior government figures in Dublin.

Li Qiang, China’s second-most powerful man, met Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during a brief diplomatic visit to Ireland.

Mr Varadkar said there was a clear desire to deepen relations, and it was also agreed that Irish citizens could visit and stay in China for up to 15 days without a visa.

Mr Li, the premier of the People’s Republic of China, arrived in Dublin on Tuesday night where he was greeted by Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan and Ireland’s ambassador in Beijing, Ann Derwin.

On Wednesday morning, he received a strong welcome from President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina at his official residence at Áras an Uachtaráin in Phoenix Park, Dublin.

Mr Li told them it was a “great pleasure” to make their acquaintance and passed on the greetings of Chinese president Xi Jinping.

The two shook hands and Mr Li asked about Mr Higgins’ visit to his home province of Zhejiang.

Warmly welcoming Mr Li at the state reception room, Mr Higgins said that he remembered his state visit to China and Mr Xi’s visit to Ireland in 2012 while he was vice-president.

Mr Xi became China’s president the following year.

Mr Li said that Chinese-Irish relations are a “good example of mutually beneficial co-operation” between two countries.

He added: “Over the years our results-oriented co-operation has made steady progress and produced rich fruit.

“Our relations have set a good example of mutually beneficial co-operation between countries that are different in political systems, cultural divisions and geographic size.”

Mr Li then travelled to nearby Farmleigh House where he met Mr Varadkar.

He was greeted there by a Lieutenants Guard of Honour from the 12th Infantry Battalion out of Limerick.

A band from the Irish Defence Forces played as Mr Li inspected the soldiers.

Mr Li then held a bilateral meeting with Mr Varadkar for discussion on issues including climate change as well as conflict in Ukraine and the Middle East.

The two leaders ate beef during a working lunch.

The meat was included on the menu amid a ban on beef exports from Ireland to China since November following the detection of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) in an Irish cow.

During the trip, Chinese officials agreed to immediately restart Irish beef imports.

Mr Varadkar said Ireland is seeking a strong and constructive relationship with China built on “trust and respect”.

The Taoiseach said 2024 marked 45 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, adding Ireland and China had growing economic relations as well as “flourishing people-to-people ties and culture exchange”.

He added: “I believe China’s role is indispensable in the world when it comes to finding ways to overcome the challenges we face, not least when it comes to climate, global security, global inequality and the conflicts in Ukraine, the Middle East and Myanmar.”

Mr Varadkar said the Irish Government also raised human rights concerns with the visiting Chinese delegation.

He said: “We raised, in particular, our concerns about human rights in what are called the special autonomous regions: Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau.

“We need to be frank about these things – that China is on the UN Human Rights Council and has international responsibilities.

“Any country, including our own country, should be judged by the way it treats minorities.”

Mr Varadkar said Mr Li was happy to discuss the matters, but added: “I don’t want to speak for him, but I think it’s fair to say that they would have a very different view of the facts and dispute a lot of what’s said in the media.”

The Irish side also raised concerns about the trial of Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai, he said.

Mr Li’s trip came after he spoke at the opening ceremony of the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland.

He is the first high-ranking Chinese government official to attend the annual gathering since president Xi in 2017.

The visit comes amid efforts by EU figures and China to develop ties.

Despite strong Sino-EU trade, with both regions the other’s second-biggest trading partner, political tensions remain.

China has angered the EU by taking a neutral stance in what most European countries see as a Russian war of aggression against Ukraine.

Some Western countries have also avoided using, or criticised, technologies linked to the Chinese state over security concerns including TikTok and Hikvision, the latter of which manufactures CCTV cameras used in Dáil Éireann.