Irish to Fete China’s Xi With Riverdance; Investment Sought

Ireland plans to treat China’s Vice President Xi Jinping to a castle banquet and a private performance of Riverdance as it seeks investment from the world’s most populous nation to help it return to growth.

Xi, who is likely to succeed President Hu Jintao, arrived at Shannon Airport in western Ireland today after a visit to the U.S. where he met President Barack Obama. Ireland’s government is hoping Xi’s visit will help bolster exports as it recovers from a recession triggered by the collapse of its property bubble in 2008.

“We will be discussing with the vice president the opportunities for investment in Ireland,” Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore said in an interview Feb. 15. Gilmore said while he expects the visit to “set the context for increased trade and investment” between the two countries, he doesn’t “envisage” talks on possible Chinese purchases of Irish sovereign debt.

Ireland, which accepted an international bailout in 2010, is aiming for full re-entry to bond markets by mid-2013, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said in December. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said in Beijing this past week that his country is willing to get “more deeply” involved in helping to resolve Europe’s debt crisis.

China’s central bank fund bought 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) of 10-year bonds that Spain sold earlier this month, the Spanish financial daily Expansion said yesterday, citing unidentified people with direct knowledge of the matter.

Cliffs of Moher, Cows

“I am delighted to pay an official visit to the beautiful country of Ireland, known as the Emerald Isle,” Xi said, according to a statement handed to reporters upon his arrival at Shannon Airport. “China values its relations with Ireland and hopes to consolidate our traditional friendship, expand exchanges and cooperation in all fields and take our bilateral relations to a new level,” Xi said.

Xi, 58, who visited Ireland previously in 2005, will also visit the farm of James and Maura Lynch in County Clare in southwest Ireland Sunday, Feb. 19. Lynch, whose family farm dates back almost 400 years, has a herd of pedigree Friesian dairy cows and beef cattle. Lynch visited China in November as part of an Irish agricultural trade mission.

After a private visit to one of Ireland’s most well-known scenic spots, the Cliffs of Moher, Xi will travel to Dublin Sunday, Feb. 19, to meet Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and take in an exhibition of Gaelic football and hurling, an Irish game similar to field hockey.

Trade, Investment Promotion

Xi will sign a number of agreements with Ireland on the promotion of trade and investment during the three-day visit. Ireland’s merchandise exports to China were valued at 2.25 billion euros in the first 11 months of last year, just 2.6 percent of Ireland’s total, according to data from the nation’s Central Statistics Office this past week.

Ireland’s economy has shrunk by about 15 percent since the property bubble imploded in 2008, with export growth in 2011 estimated by the central bank to have helped return the country to full-year growth last year for the first time in four. Ireland’s exports, bolstered by the presence of U.S. multinationals, are bigger than its entire gross domestic product.

The central bank earlier this month lowered its 2012 growth forecast for Ireland to 0.5 percent from 1.8 percent, citing declining consumer spending and slower export growth.

Xi will travel to Turkey from Ireland on Monday, Feb. 20, after visiting the Irish parliament, meeting with Irish President Michael D. Higgins and attending a trade and investment forum.

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