Xi Jinping visits the old sod

It might seem a little odd that Chinese president-in-waiting Xi Jinping chose Ireland as the one European country to visit following his U.S. trip last week, but as the Herald Tribune explains, he’s the latest in a long line of Chinese leaders fascinated with the Emerald Isle: A key reason may be a kind of ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
MAXWELLS/AFP/Getty Images
MAXWELLS/AFP/Getty Images
MAXWELLS/AFP/Getty Images

It might seem a little odd that Chinese president-in-waiting Xi Jinping chose Ireland as the one European country to visit following his U.S. trip last week, but as the Herald Tribune explains, he's the latest in a long line of Chinese leaders fascinated with the Emerald Isle:

A key reason may be a kind of free-trade pilgrimage - to the Shannon Free Zone, first visited by Jiang Zemin, the former Communist Party chief but then a vice minister of the State Imports and Exports Administration, in 1980.

Chinese officials often say the free-trade area, set up in 1959, was a model for their own successful Special Economic Zones in southern China, which powered economic reform here starting in 1980. China now wants to upgrade its industries, and the high-tech Shannon Free Zone is of interest as a regional model, Irish commentators said.

It might seem a little odd that Chinese president-in-waiting Xi Jinping chose Ireland as the one European country to visit following his U.S. trip last week, but as the Herald Tribune explains, he’s the latest in a long line of Chinese leaders fascinated with the Emerald Isle:

A key reason may be a kind of free-trade pilgrimage – to the Shannon Free Zone, first visited by Jiang Zemin, the former Communist Party chief but then a vice minister of the State Imports and Exports Administration, in 1980.

Chinese officials often say the free-trade area, set up in 1959, was a model for their own successful Special Economic Zones in southern China, which powered economic reform here starting in 1980. China now wants to upgrade its industries, and the high-tech Shannon Free Zone is of interest as a regional model, Irish commentators said.

Other leaders who have visited Shannon include two prime ministers, Wen Jiabao and Zhu Rongji, and two vice prime ministers, Huang Ju and Zeng Peiyan. During his own visit, Mr. Xi requested a personal briefing from Dr. Vincent Cunnane, the chief executive of Shannon Development, which runs the zone, the company said in a statement.[…]

Over the last 15 years, Ireland achieved something that fascinates Chinese officials — a transition from a poor, agricultural nation to a rich, high-tech one.

Even as Mr. Xi’s Air China 747-400 landed in Shannon, a statement by him was distributed to waiting journalists describing Ireland as “a success story of moving, in a short period of time, from an agro-pastoral economy to a knowledge economy.”

Whatever the reason, the vice president’s hosts also seem to have lined up the most stereotypically “oirish” set of photo-ops possible for him. More photos of Xi doing Irish things below the jump:

 

 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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