Chapter 5: Creating an Asia Strategy ~ The Irish Asia Strategy and Its China Relations

IrishAsia5.1 Introduction – the Context
The emergence of the Asian economies as major economic forces over the past two decade has been nothing short of remarkable. Indeed China alone has enjoyed average annual growth rates in excess of 9% over the past twenty years to become the sixth largest economy in the world in terms of GDP and the second largest trading nation. India too has been achieving similar growth rates in recent years and is currently the world’s twelfth ranking economy in terms of GDP. The phenomenon has been such as to lead some commentators to dub the twenty-first century as the ‘Century of Asia’. This growing economic power brings with it an increasing ability to shape and influence political and economic developments throughout the world.

From an Irish perspective it is important in its own right that we should seek to foster strong political relations with these countries and this region. From an economic perspective, the emergence of these economies presents an important opportunity for Ireland. Success in international markets has been at the core of our economic development and will be the driving force for our long-term economic growth.

This then was the background which helped shape thinking about Irish/Asian relationships. Other key issues which helped focus attention on the Asian region included:
– The very high level of sophistication, both in terms of their production methods and their products, being achieved by the more advanced Asian economies. That sophistication presented clear opportunities for Irish companies, especially in the high-tech sectors, both in terms of sales and in partnerships/investment relationships.
– The performance of the Asian economies over previous years and, in particular, the manner in which they recovered from the crises of 1997-1998, reaffirmed the importance of this region to global commerce.
– Average growth since 1990 had been substantial in many Asian economies, most notably China, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea and Vietnam. Indeed the term devised to describe this growth, the ‘Asian Tiger’, was subsequently adapted to designate Ireland’s strong economic growth as the ‘Celtic Tiger’. Industrial growth had been phenomenal. The growth in services has also been impressive, reflecting greater productive specialisation as well as higher personal incomes.

5.2 Background to Irish Trade Development
The background to Irish trade development is that since the 1960’s, when Ireland’s trade was mostly with the UK (at one stage accounting for 75% of our exports), the Irish Government has endeavoured to support a diversification of our exports and develop new markets, both to expand the level of exports overall and to avoid over-dependence on any single area. The success of this policy, driven by strong levels of inward foreign direct investment, a benign enterprise environment, the development of the Single Market, and other appropriate framework conditions, has led to the current position (2007) where some 60% of our exports go to EU countries, the USA is our single largest export market (about 20%) and our exports to Britain are now down to just under 20%. Nevertheless, despite this more balanced position, there is an imperative for our companies and enterprises to continually seek out new markets and be aware of regions of the world which are showing strong growth conditions. With increasing globalisation, expanded membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the success of the WTO in lowering tariffs worldwide and cheaper transport costs, more distant markets require an increased level of attention and support so as to capture the opportunities they present. Read more

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Chapter 6: Irish-Chinese Political and Economic Relations – An Overview ~ The Irish Asia Strategy and Its China Relations

IrishAsiaThis chapter provides a summary background to current relations between the Republic of Ireland [Ireland] and the People’s Republic of China [PRC]. Subsequent chapters will deal with certain issues in greater depth but it is useful here to provide a quick tour through the development of Sino-Irish bilateral relations. The leading theme behind this overview is to highlight the more important principles behind current bilateral relations and the resources needed to develop these relations in a positive manner to the benefit of both nations. The first section will deal with contacts before the founding of the PRC and Ireland to offer a flavour of early historical connections between the two lands. Then in chronological order selected developments are described bringing us to present day government policy.

6.1 Pre-1949 Relations
Historically there has been little in the way of ‘national’ relations between Ireland and China due to terms of geographic distance and the resources and political realities of Ireland before the declaration of the Irish Republic. However there have been some notable individuals from Ireland involved with China. George Macartney [1737–1806] acted as Ambassador for the first British mission in 1793 to open up trade between the British and Chinese empires. From County Antrim of Scottish descent, Macartney has been widely though perhaps incorrectly blamed for failing to open trade with China by refusing to kowtow[i] to the Qianlong (乾隆) Emperor. Sir G.W. Staunton [1781 – 1859] served as ‘page to the Ambassador’ accompanying his father a Galway man to China, both serving under the Macartney mission. The younger Staunton, having studied Chinese, is said to have been the only member of the British Embassy able to converse in Chinese and read Chinese characters. Staunton was one of the original founders together with H.T. Colebrook and others of the Royal Asiatic Society. Trade did flourish after more successful missions with items such as tea, china, and fabric making it to Ireland.

The extensive Asian cultural treasures at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin were gifted to the Irish people by Chester Beatty [1875 – 1968] an American who was made the first honorary Irishman in 1957. From his childhood, Beatty developed a fascination with artefacts from the orient and Beatty collected many works and items of interest from Asian cultures including Chinese artefacts that are now on display at the library.

Ireland, from her struggle towards independence had some recognition in China amongst its revolutionaries and activists, especially for an Eamon de Valera speech at the League of Nations in 1932 admonishing Japan’s incursions on Chinese sovereignty. Mao Zedong is said to have once held celebrations in Ruijin[ii] on the 7th November 1931 to mark the founding of the Chinese Soviet Republic[iii] (中华苏维埃共和国) at which
“there were drums and firecrackers and skits, one with a ‘British imperialist’ driving before him prisoners in chains labelled ‘India’ and ‘Ireland’”[iv].

During this period, social upheaval (with the Communists, the warlords, and the Kuomintang, each trying to preserve and gain power) saw danger for missionaries, many of whom were Irish. One such priest was the Very Reverend Fr. Cornelius Tierney of Co. Monaghan, who went to China as part of the Maynooth mission serving in Kien Chang district of Jianxi Province. Reports in the Irish papers of the time relay how when he rang the bells for mass on a morning in November 1930 ‘Chinese Communist Bandits’ who had entered the village, headed to the church and took Fr. Tierney hostage demanding a ransom of 10,000 Mexican dollars[v] for his return. The group charging the ransom were held to be the same group who had killed another Irish priest Rev. Timothy Leonard from Limerick, the previous year. Fr. Tierney was to die on or around March 5th 1931 from illness despite diplomatic attempts by the British Legation in China. Read more

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Chapter 7: Sino-Irish Relations – The View From China ~ The Irish Asia Strategy And Its China Relations

IrishAsia“Formerly we thought than the foundation of our wealth would be established if only western methods were stressed, and that the result would be achieved immediately…unfortunately, we are merely copying the superficialities of the western methods, getting only the name but very little substance…superficial imitation is not so good as arousing intellectual curiosity. The forges and hammers of factories cannot be compared with the apparatus of people’s minds.”
Wang T’ao 1870[i]

For much of the past thirty years both China and Ireland have been involved in radical reform programmes that have placed their respective governments to the fore. In taking the strategic decision to open their economies to the outside world, learning, experimenting with and harnessing new ideas and technologies to the service of their societies each can be said to have achieved an astounding level of success. Neither has allowed themselves the comfort of introversion, working with particular effectiveness since the end of the Cold War to move from the periphery to the centre of the international system. In doing so both countries have found greater opportunities to express and develop their own voice, discovering significant common ground along the way. Both are united in their commitment to a more balanced and effective international system, the maintenance of a peaceful international environment in which countries committed to economic development can seek, find and take advantage of opportunities.
While these distant neighbours find themselves on the opposite extremities of the Eurasian continent it is the similarities between them that draw them together. Both call upon a considerable heritage of cultural and technological innovation in the crafting of their self image. If their political philosophies and social systems have developed along very different tracks then this should not diminish a profound respect for each others successes – few other countries can claim to have so successfully turned the forces of globalisation to the service of their societies.
What follows in this chapter is an insight into the way that China views Ireland. The chapter unfolds first by summarising the general perception of Ireland that exists in China today. Subsequent sections explore the different strands that have contributed to this perception setting these against larger trends in China’s transformation. The final section suggests that for Sino-Irish trends to continue their positive arc much will have to be done to orchestrate an increasingly disparate and potentially fractious set of relations.

7.1 Ireland: A View from Afar
Perhaps unsurprisingly Ireland has not captured the imagination of the average Chinese citizen, most of whom have enjoyed only sporadic and limited encounters with things Irish. There is for example little awareness of the distinctive role Irish individuals have played in the shaping of Chinese relations with the rest of the world, whether through the intercession of Lord McCartney, first envoy of Britain to China or the intervention of Sir Robert Hart in establishing the Imperial maritime custom service which helped prolong the twilight of Qing dynasty. Aierlan, where it exists at all dwells in the collective imagination as a jumble of images and pubic figures spanning the breathtaking beauty of the Cliffs of Moher to Roy Keane, Riverdance and a host of Nobel Prize winners.
Among China’s elite the conception of Ireland is more complex if still partial. The young tiger’s colonial past, its consequent struggle for recognition, and determination to lift itself out of poverty strike a chord with Chinese experience. Beyond these impressions Ireland’s desire to pursue a neutral path in world affairs based on the international rule of law, one respectful of the one-China principle resonates strongly with a Chinese worldview that places multi-polarity and cooperative, consultative approaches to problem solving to the fore. If there are nuances and occasional contradictions to this policy they neither detract nor deviate from Beijing’s fundamental commitment to the creation and maintenance of a stable international environment, built upon the five principles of peaceful coexistence: mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and finally peaceful coexistence sensitive to the needs of developing countries.
Such perceptions are both relatively new and tentative, being formed in the flurry of activity that began towards the end of the 1990s. It is during this period, the height of the Celtic tiger phenomenon that frequent Chinese trips, often with sponsorship from Irish state agencies such as Enterprise Ireland began to generate awareness bringing clarity and substance to what would have otherwise been a relationship of mutual indifference. Read more

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Chapter 8: Promoting Irish Business In China – The Role Of The Government ~ The Irish Asia Strategy And Its China Relations

IrishAsiaThe Irish Trade mission that arrived in Beijing on January 16th 2005 was led by the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. The fact that he was accompanied by no less than four cabinet ministers (Minister Micheál Martin; Minister Mary Coughlan; Minister Mary Hanafin and Minister Noel Dempsey) served to underscore the importance of this particular mission. The trade mission visited Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong and, while the overall management and logistics for the business events were handled by Enterprise Ireland, many other state agencies and private industry associations participated in the mission in some way. Representatives of Irish agencies such as Bord Bia, Tourism Ireland and Shannon Development and members of associations such as IBEC, ISA, Chambers Ireland, and the Irish Exporters Association organised events, working closely with Enterprise Ireland to ensure the success of the visit.
This particular trade mission was in fact the largest ever organised in the history of the state until that time, involving a total of 121 Irish companies and institutions, primarily from in the ICT, Educational Services, Environmental and Engineering Services, Medical Devices and the Food and Drinks sectors. Around 300 Irish people (company executives and officials) travelled on what was an extremely successful but very complex mission. This event marked the culmination of the first stage of a process of engagement with China that had its origins some 6 years earlier – with the publication of the Asia Strategy in 1999.

Enterprise Ireland was set up in early 1998 through the merger of a number of other agencies (including Forbairt and the Irish Trade Board) and charged with responsibility for the overall development of Irish-owned industry. While within Ireland the organisation is involved in many aspects of the growth and development of Irish companies, a very important role of the agency involves the promotion of exports by Irish companies in overseas markets. Though the core of the overseas work involves making introductions for Irish executives to potential customers and partners and providing on-the-ground assistance in countries around the world, in the more distant markets, and especially in Asia, trade missions led by high level Government figures are very important in raising the image of Ireland generally – and of Ireland as a source of top quality products and services.

In late 1998 the Taoiseach had made his first official visit to China and Enterprise Ireland organised its first trade mission to accompany that visit. On that occasion only around 20 companies accompanied the official delegation. Given the recent developments in the China market it was obvious that Ireland’s overall level of engagement with the country was abysmally low and, following the visit, the Taoiseach requested a group of officials and private sector individuals to develop a coherent national strategy that would put Ireland on a stronger footing in terms of its overall relationship with Asia and with China in particular. The document that resulted from the deliberations of that committee was published in early 1999 as the Asia Strategy.
As the lead agency in terms of the development of Irish industry and the promotion of Irish exports, Enterprise Ireland was heavily involved in the development of the Asia Strategy – and its own plans for the growth of exports to Asia formed an integral part of the plans outlined in the published document.
Though the Irish Trade Board had initially established an office in Beijing in 1979, in the same year in which Ireland exchanged diplomatic relations with China, Irish exports to China were always at a low level due to the closed nature of the market and the difficulties faced by Irish companies in trying to access such a distant, different and under-developed market. By 1999 the situation was of course very different: China was developing rapidly and opening up to the global economy – and it was obvious that, in the years to come, the Chinese economy was going to continue to grow at a rapid pace. Following the publication of the Asia Strategy in 1999, Enterprise Ireland moved quickly to strengthen its operations in China, with offices in Beijing and in Shanghai (the two most developed cities in the country) and a further office in Hong Kong, which covered the southern part of the country, including the industrial powerhouse of Shenzhen.
In comparison with other countries in the EU Ireland has had very little history of engagement at a business level with China. While multinational companies with operations in Ireland always traded with Asia, this was to a large extent dictated by their global business strategies. In the early days of industrialisation in Ireland our larger companies, such as those in the food and drinks sectors were generally confined to selling into European and US markets. It was not until the development of new processing technologies and the growth of the software and services sectors that Irish industry acquired the right products and the economies of scale required to tackle the more distant markets in Asia. In addition, unlike countries such as the Netherlands and the UK that have companies that can trace their origins back to older national trading empires and that have had operations in Asia for many years, Ireland lacked a basic network in the region upon which to build new business. Read more

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Chapter 9: Friendship Between Citizens – The Twinning Of Cities ~ The Irish Asia Strategy and Its China Relations

In “A Decade of the Asia Strategy”[i], it is noted that Twinning Initiatives between Irish and Asian cities, towns and regions can assist the further development of personal and business relationships. The concept is popular in Asia and it has a positive contribution to make in strengthening country-to-country ties, facilitating the development of business relationships that require a foundation of mutual confidence and trust. China is a priority country in the Asia Strategy.
On 19th May 2005, the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government and Cork City Council concluded a Sister City Agreement in Cork City Hall. The agreement was signed by the Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. Sean Martin and the Chairman of the Shanghai People’s Congress, Mr. Gong Xue Ping. The text of the agreement is set out in Appendix I (see below). Key principles are the benefits that the relationship will bring to the citizens of both cities and the focus on collaborative projects that “deliver tangible results and on co-operations that will give the citizens of both cities an opportunity to meet and work together, thus increasing mutual understanding”.
A Memorandum of Understanding establishing a further five year programme was signed on March 27th 2009 in the Shanghai City Hall by the Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. Patricia Gosch and the Vice Mayor of the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government, Mr. Tang Dingjie. This programme will focus on City Government, Education, Business, Culture and Tourism. A copy of the Memorandum of Understanding is set out in Appendix II (see below).

This chapter describes Cork City Council’s experience of the Sister City relationship with Shanghai and the contribution of this process to the achievement of the objectives of the Asia Strategy. It will examine the background to the project, principal activities, barriers and future plans.

The Shanghai – Cork Sister Cities Project is a formal agreement between the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government and Cork City Council to provide a framework for co-operation projects between the two cities. The purpose is to develop deep and long-lasting ties between the citizens and organisations of both cities that will promote mutual understanding and bring benefits to the participants. Whilst it is recognised that the development of trade is the primary objective of the Asia Strategy, the purpose of the Sister City Project is wider, encompassing local government, business, education, culture and tourism, in the development of close contacts between the two cities.
The initial contacts between the cities in 2002 and 2003 were fostered by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and the Chinese Ambassador to Ireland, Dr. Sha Hailin[ii]. The Irish Consuls General in Shanghai, Geoffrey Keating[iii] (2000-04), Nicholas O’Brien (2004–08) and Conor O’Riordan (2008-present) have also fully supported the process. Since 2002, the Irish Government has operated a Shanghai Intern Programme for officials from Shanghai. These officials visited Cork in 2002 and 2003 and, following preliminary discussions, both city administrations agreed to explore more formal links. University College Cork had also developed links with a number of Chinese universities and had over 100 Chinese students in 2003.
In February 2004, the Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. Colm Burke, made an official visit to Shanghai at the invitation of the Shanghai Municipal Government and was accompanied by the City Manager – Joe Gavin; President of Cork Chamber – Robin O’Sullivan; Prof. Kevin Collins and Prof. Gabriel Crean of University College Cork. This delegation was met by Vice Mayor Yan Junqi (who is currently the vice chairwoman of standing committee of the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China and the chairwoman of China Association for Promoting Democracy) and also visited Fudan University, which already has links with University College Cork.
On returning from Shanghai, Cork City Council established the Shanghai Project Group to manage the developing relationship with Shanghai. The members were drawn initially from Cork City Council, Cork Chamber and University College Cork. The current membership is set out in Appendix III. This project group meets quarterly to review progress and develop new projects. Read more

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Chapter 10: Connecting Cultures – The Role Of Education ~ The Irish Asia Strategy and Its China Relations

Throughout the 1990s education increasingly became an export commodity for “first world” nations. This growth in the international education market was enabled by the increasing wealth in developing nations. The drivers of the trend also included limited availability of higher education places in developing nations; desire to access knowledge and technology; to learn respectable English language skills; and to make foreign contacts. In addition, the roles of fashion and the societal pressure to have foreign educated offspring should not be under-estimated.

Ireland is an English speaking nation with a credible education brand and it was well positioned to benefit from this trend. In recent times, therefore, education has naturally been a constant thread in the main political speeches on Irish/Asian relations and in the key strategy documents on the matter.
The Irish government’s Asia Strategy has been the touchstone of the Irish government’s efforts to build relations and support and stimulate economic and cultural activity with Asia. This short paper reviews and considers the role of education in the Irish government’s Asia Strategy over the decade from its inception in 1999 towards the end of its second 5 year period in 2009, specifically in connection with China. It also reviews the political will, some key events and finally UCC’s practical experience with its Institute of Chinese Studies.
It will be seen that education has assumed an importance wider than simply that of a valuable export sector; rather that it is increasingly recognised as an agent of intercultural awareness and a key enabler of future business relationships.

Ireland’s Asia Strategy has been supported by high level political exchanges. Education was highlighted by these exchanges. Bertie Ahern, Prime Minister of Ireland (the Taoiseach), visited China in January 2005. The Taoiseach was accompanied by the Minister for Education and Science, Mary Hanafin and by the heads of Irish Universities and Colleges. One of the objectives of the visit was “To increase awareness of Ireland’s education system and the links being established between Chinese and Irish institutions” and in the course of the visit agreements were signed in matters of education and scientific research. Bertie Ahern’s speeches were laced with references to education and culture and he made reference to an agreement that had been signed between Shanghai Fudan University and Trinity College Dublin.

When Brian Cowen visited China in 2008 he was similarly accompanied by the Education Minister, this time Batt O’Keeffe. Mr Cowen recognised achievements in the development of educational ties between Ireland and China and concluded, “There have been some important milestones in the rapid development of our bilateral educational cooperation”. He noted the level of activity of Irish Institutions in China and the importance of Chinese students to Ireland.
He hoped the numbers of Chinese students in Ireland would grow but also stated that he wanted to see more Irish students come to study in China as well.
The prominence given to education in speeches on these visits demonstrates awareness at the highest levels of the importance of education in Ireland’s dealings with China. Mr Cowen was speaking at a later moment in the decade of the Asia Strategy and was able to draw on specific examples of progress. Mr Cowen’s wish to see more Irish students studying in China appears to evidence a growing awareness that the opportunity in education in terms of the strategy extended beyond education as an export commodity for Ireland; and that the human contacts he referred to would be the foundation of Irish-Chinese business into the future beyond the impetus of the initial Asia Strategy. Read more

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