Xi Jinping

How Irish eyes smiled on Xi

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 February, 2012, 12:00am


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What a study in contrasts it was when leader-in-waiting Vice-President Xi Jinping went travelling this month. In Washington he was awarded all the paraphernalia of respect, with red carpet, a gun salute, fanfare, glittering banquets, a meeting in the Oval Office with President Barack Obama, plus separate sessions with Vice-President Joe Biden and the secretaries of state, treasury, defence, agriculture and commerce.

But there was also a nervous edge. As Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper headlined it, Xi was 'wined, dined ... and warned'. All the fanfare and respect in the world could not match the warmth that welcomed Xi on his next stop in Ireland, a hundred thousand welcomes, as the Irish traditionally say.

Power-mongers in Washington should take a leaf from the Irish playbook if they wish to win friends and influence people in Beijing. This is not merely a political point, but economic advice - as one of America's most distinguished think tanks recently acknowledged.

David Marchick, the managing director and global head of external affairs at the Carlyle Group, pointed out in a policy memorandum for the US Council on Foreign Relations that the visit of Xi to the US offered a great opportunity to establish a new economic framework that could help to rebalance the global economy.

'Creating a positive framework will help mitigate the inevitable stresses on the US-China relationship as leaders in both political parties sharpen their anti-China rhetoric during the 2012 US election,' Marchick wrote.

His presentation, part of the 'Renewing America' series by the think tank, particularly advocates fostering greater Chinese investment in the US.

China's outbound foreign direct investment has grown rapidly but remains relatively low by international standards, lower than that of Ireland or Singapore. Historically, the US has attracted about 15 per cent of China's total outbound foreign investment, but it currently receives a meagre 2 per cent.

There is big money at stake: if economic projections are right, there is US$1 trillion in Chinese foreign investment waiting to find a home by 2020. In the past two years, China contributed 16 per cent to global gross domestic product growth and whatever happens, even if it suffers rebuffs on its road to becoming an economic superpower, it will be a mover and shaker of economic trends.

But looking at Xi's international red carpet debut in Washington and Ireland, what can one say to Marchick but 'dream on'. Obama and the Americans did stay on the correct side of diplomatic protocol and they accorded China's leader-in-waiting with lots of good 'face' time.

But what was Xi thinking as Obama, at their Oval Office meeting, looked at the television cameras, and not at his guest, and reiterated that China must trade by the same 'rules of the road' as the rest of the world, acknowledge the 'aspirations and rights' of ordinary Chinese people, and live up to the 'increased responsibilities' of a burgeoning economic power. This was the message of the headmaster of a strict elite school to the new kid, 'I'm in charge.'

How relieved must Xi have been to land in Ireland, away from the hectoring and lecturing, and to be treated to a rich piece of old blarney when he visited a farm, where farmer James Lynch presented Xi with a newly born heifer named after him, and told him that he had brought the sun that melted the frost and revealed the Irish green of the grass.

Who would you rather do business with - the bossy Americans or the sweet-talking Irish?

Although Ireland is small, it has a strong agricultural sector producing 10 times as much food as its own population can eat, and plans a rapid increase in dairy production when European milk quotas are abolished in two years' time (and the heifer Xi will be ready to produce milk).

Xi and Ireland signed agreements on trade, investment and education, which will boost their economic ties. Trade between the two countries was US$5.5 billion in 2010.

Ireland hopes to expand its role as a centre for high-technology research and as a base for European headquarters of international companies, and of course Chinese help in the debt crisis would not go amiss.

Xi did not match the blarney but said he had been impressed by Ireland and its ability to weather the international financial crisis, and his body language showed that he warmed to the Irish warmth.

Power-mongers in Washington should take a leaf from the Irish playbook if they wish to win friends in Beijing


China's non-financial foreign direct investment in 2011, according to figures from Beijing's Ministry of Commerce