Trade with China rose by 3.6pc last year
CHINESE institutions have made no approach to the country's Dublin embassy about investing in Ireland's banks, but could be exploring the prospect on their own, China's ambassador Mr Liu Biwei said yesterday.
The comments from China's top diplomat in Ireland come four months after Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan floated the idea of selling banks to the Chinese.
"We have not been formally approached by anyone in China," said Mr Biwei. "There are a lot of private investors with the capability to invest in Irish banks. . ."
"Some of them are already operating here, maybe they are keeping some contacts on this matter. . . this would be subject to the commercial banks' own decision."
Speaking after a business breakfast hosted by the Ireland China Association, Mr Biwei stressed that while Ireland's reputation in China has been "damaged" by the financial crisis, good relations endure.
Bilateral trade between China and Ireland rose by 3.6pc last year to $5.4bn (€3.80bn), according to figures compiled by the Chinese authority, with the $3.4bn (€2.39bn) of Irish exports to the east out-stripping imports.
The figures make China Ireland's seventh biggest trading partner, but Mr Biwei hinted that there could be even more activity if Ireland relaxed the rules on visas. "Private company managers complaint to me that it is very difficult for them to get a visa," he said, a point repeated by several speakers at the event.
The Ireland China Association's chairman, Kevin Lynch, also said that Ireland should "expedite" direct flights between Dublin and China "if we're serious about getting investment from China".
The event was attended by about 100 business people, including many who are already trading with China.