Chinese premier Li Qiang is visiting Ireland for talks on China’s relations with Europe

Chinese Premier Li Qiang has arrived in Ireland for talks with the Irish leader on China’s relations with the European Union and other global and bilateral issues

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar will host a lunch and bilateral meeting with Li on Wednesday at Ireland’s state guest house in Dublin.

“China is a very important political and economic power in the world and becoming bigger all the time in that sense. So it’s important that we have good relations with China but also some questions we will need to talk about as well,” Varadkar said ahead of the visit. He didn’t elaborate on what “questions” he was referencing.

Li, a close confidant of Chinese President Xi Jinping, was appointed last March as the country’s No. 2 leader and top economic official. A former party secretary for Shanghai, he enforced a strict “zero-COVID” lockdown on Shanghai in 2022.

He made Europe the destination for his first trip abroad last summer, visiting Germany and France, Europe’s leading economies, amid increasing concerns over Europe’s economic dependence on China and tensions over Beijing’s stance on the war in Ukraine.

At the time, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz rejected the idea of “decoupling” from China and instead called for “de-risking” — avoiding overreliance on Chinese trade.

That approach was reiterated Tuesday by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who said the EU cannot risk depending too heavily on trade with Beijing and needs to aim for a more “level playing field” and better access to the Chinese market.

This is the first time a senior Chinese leader has visited Ireland since Li’s predecessor, Li Keqiang, visited in 2015.

He arrived late Tuesday from the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, where he pitched China as an investment opportunity despite its slowing economy. Li was the first senior Chinese official to attend the annual gathering since Xi took part in 2017.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said earlier that Li’s visit to Switzerland and Ireland would “kick off the high-level exchanges between China and Europe in 2024.”

Bilateral trade between Ireland and China has grown significantly in recent years, with China now Ireland’s fourth largest trade partner and fifth largest export market.

Asia Matters, an Irish group focused on promoting business links with Asian countries, said one of the topics that could be on Wednesday’s agenda is the resumption of Irish beef exports to China.

The exports were suspended in November after a case of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, was discovered by Irish veterinary officials.

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