DUBLIN, Feb. 17 (Xinhua) -- Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping will make an official visit this weekend to Ireland to encourage closer relations between the two countries. In a recent interview, leading Irish economist and Chairman of the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin Brendan Halligan said this trip would mark the beginning of a new phase in Sino-Irish relations.
Halligan said the relationship between China and Ireland has always been good with positive cooperation between leaders and an interest from both sides in learning more about each other.
"In particular what's been the biggest feature of the relationship over the past ten years has been the growth of trade which has been very considerable," he said. "I would think that total trade between the two countries has multiplied by a factor of ten or more and is going to obviously keep increasing."
The economist said this relationship, mainly based on trade, offered many opportunities for further cooperation in cultural areas such as music. There is also a possibility, he said, for the two countries to work together on tackling climate change and other environmental issues.
"China took a leading role in Durban at the most recent negotiations. We had anticipated that this would be the development that would be most significant in the fight against climate change. We would like to work with, I think, the People's Republic of China on that issue, especially."
As the date for the Chinese vice president's trip approaches, Halligan said the visit is a real honor for Ireland. He said it would mark the beginning of a new relationship between the two countries.
"We know it is deep in the Chinese culture to think long term and to think strategically, so this visit is not an accident. It's been planned for a long time. I'm absolutely certain," he said.
"I think that the strategic intent behind it from the Chinese side is probably on the basis of cementing the relationship with our country in order to have, inside the European Union, a partner whom they can trust, a partner who trusts them, a relationship that works to the mutual advantage of both, with neither side trying to take advantage of the other."
Halligan said Ireland could recognize that China has now become a significant actor on the global stage and the rest of the world will also have to acknowledge this as China's economy rises to the top.
"It's very obvious that the strategy being pursued by the Chinese government and peoples is working very successfully economically and the success has been so consistent that everybody has got to accept the fact that it exists, that it's there, despite the fact that the growth rates have been so astonishingly high that people thought this couldn't be continued."
Halligan said the Chinese vice president's trip would be a "landmark visit" and one of the most important things to happen to Ireland, comparing it to the May 2011 visit of the United Kingdom's Queen Elizabeth II. He said there were several areas in which the two countries could develop their cooperation in the future and ways in which China could help Ireland with its current economic difficulties.
"We would hope for a lot of inward investment from China into Ireland both in the financial institutions and the financial markets but also we would like to see Chinese companies coming here to headquarter themselves here, most particularly small and medium size enterprises and we would also like to see Chinese companies ultimately coming here for manufacturing purposes."
After suffering from a damaging international financial crisis, Halligan said Ireland now has a better insight into how to maintain financial stability. He said China may be interested in an exchange of information with Ireland to prevent further economic disasters in the future.
"We've got to ensure that the unexpected, which always happens politically, doesn't catch us unawares, that we monitor certain flashpoints together and, to the extent that one can, prevent a flashpoint in the global economic international sphere becoming a dangerous crisis, then we should exchange information," said Halligan.
"So, I think it's question of mutual understanding, mutual comprehension and mutual respect. That's absolutely important. And I think that the dialogue which is now going to be intensified and brought to a high level between Ireland and China would help in that direction."
Halligan said the Irish government was strongly considering the possibility of introducing Mandarin as a second language in second level education. He said this action would make a real statement about Ireland's dedication to developing relations with China.
"I know that our Minister for Education is very seriously considering this issue of Mandarin at second level and as one of the most important languages to be taught at second level," he said.
"We understand the difficulties that we would have here. First of all, we'll be getting the teachers for a start, also the resources that would be involved particularly at a time when we're suffering from cutbacks and engaged in an austerity program. But nonetheless I can tell you that he is actively considering this matter in a very positive way."
by Xiong Sihao