Wednesday 13 December 2017

Kenny urged to tackle Chinese vice president on human rights

THE Irish Government has been urged to deliver a forceful message to Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping over human rights abuses during a three-day visit.

Amnesty International Ireland called on coalition leaders Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore to speak with one voice about the country's treatment of activists.

Mr Xi, 58, China's leader-in-waiting, will arrive at Shannon Airport tomorrow afternoon after a five-day trip to the US and is expected to sign off on a number of "door-opening" agreements to boost trade with Ireland.

Amnesty has written to Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore demanding human rights issues are raised and with a warning that China is the world's number one executioner and its treatment of activists is appalling.

Noeleen Hartigan, programmes director of Amnesty International Ireland, said it is crucial the Government makes clear the concerns of many Irish people about human rights abuses.

"A minimum of 190,000 people are in 'administrative detention', many of them in forced labour camps," she said.

"Human rights activists are targeted for harassment, arrest and some have even disappeared, while the use of torture is endemic.

"It is obviously important that we build and maintain trading relations with a country like China. But even in the midst of a recession we cannot let trade opportunities blind us to our responsibility to support courageous Chinese human rights activists risking their freedom and their lives every single day."

Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore have committed to raising the issue of human rights during talks.

The Taoiseach said the Irish Government hoped Mr Xi, who admitted in Washington that China has "room to improve", would continue to improve the country's record.

Among the cases Amnesty has asked the Taoiseach and Tanaiste to raise are those of Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, found guilty of inciting subversion of state power, and human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who is in state custody, and whose relatives have been told is undergoing a three-month "education period".

Mr Xi, who is not taking media questions during his trip, travels to Turkey after Ireland.

The Chinese vice-president is widely expected to succeed president Hu Jintao, who must retire as head of the Communist Party later this year and from the presidency in 2013.

It is expected he will sign a number of trade agreements with the Irish Government on Sunday to help Irish businesses sell into China and vice-versa.

The Government's "Asia strategy" has highlighted lucrative opportunities to export food and drink to China, particularly for the country's growing middle classes who have increasingly more money to spend.

Other industries being targeted are pharmaceuticals, IT, medical devices, tourism and education. There have also been suggestions of possible co-operation on alternative energy research.

Mr Gilmore said he will be selling Ireland to Mr Wi as a strategically located country within the European Union, which is part of the Eurozone but also as a "bridge" to Africa and the US.

Mr Xi's trip will see him visit a dairy farm in Limerick, the Cliffs of Moher in Clare, Croke Park and a special performance of Riverdance in Dublin and an Ireland-China Investment Forum.

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