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All Chinese whispers as Higgins meets tech giant

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 Ireland President Michael Higgins  (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping wait for the start of a signing ceremony in Beijing's Great Hall of the People on December 9, 2014 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Greg Baker - Pool /Getty Images)

Ireland President Michael Higgins (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping wait for the start of a signing ceremony in Beijing's Great Hall of the People on December 9, 2014 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Greg Baker - Pool /Getty Images)

Ireland's President Michael D. Higgins and China's President Xi Jinping (L) inspect honour guards during a welcoming ceremony inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, December 9, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Ireland's President Michael D. Higgins and China's President Xi Jinping (L) inspect honour guards during a welcoming ceremony inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, December 9, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Lee

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Ireland President Michael Higgins (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping wait for the start of a signing ceremony in Beijing's Great Hall of the People on December 9, 2014 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Greg Baker - Pool /Getty Images)

IT was the day that President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina were guests of honour at a lavish state dinner by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

But it was an intriguing meeting with a tech firm got most of the attention on the second full day of his visit to the Asian superpower.

President Higgins met both telecoms giant Huawei, which has a presence in Ireland, and Alibaba, which does not, and tongues started wagging.

Alibaba is valued at more than $230bn after it recently secured the record of the largest IPO when it floated on the stock market.

INVESTMENT

While the niceties and protocols of international diplomacy and friendship are certainly a feature of the trip - for instance China's appalling human rights record isn't getting a look in - it's no secret that the trade mission is seeking out some foreign direct investment.

As yet a good news announcement from the IDA regarding a jobs announcement remained out of touch, but tantalisingly close.

So, should we read anything into the President going to meet representatives of one of the biggest companies in the world?

Not according to Aras an Uachtarain. "Alibaba is a very large company and it's entirely appropriate that the President would meet with them but I wouldn't read any significance into it at this point in time.

"It's an ongoing process - this is an opportunity to build on existing links and an opportunity to meet with new companies," his spokesman said.

In other words, watch this space.

While Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan signed agreements to boost our links with China, Finance Minister Michael Noonan was also out batting for Ireland.

But while the human rights issue appears to be glossed over, the Irish government cannot simply wish Chinese authoritarianism away.

China is an autocracy with no free press, no freedom of association, and no freedom of speech - yet it's an economic powerhouse that has lifted, according to some statistics, more than 700m people out of abject poverty.

So, which is more important - economic liberalism or democratic freedom? President Higgins was asked that question and said that it was impossible to choose.

hnews@herald.ie


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