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President raises human rights issues with Chinese

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President Michael Higgins, left, is guided by Chinese President Xi Jinping after a signing ceremony in Beijing's Great Hall of the People

President Michael Higgins, left, is guided by Chinese President Xi Jinping after a signing ceremony in Beijing's Great Hall of the People

President Michael Higgins, left, is guided by Chinese President Xi Jinping after a signing ceremony in Beijing's Great Hall of the People

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has said that he raised the issue of human rights with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in a very comprehensive way.

Mr Higgins and his wife Sabina were guests of honour at a lavish state dinner by Chinese President yesterday where they discussed building stronger economic and cultural ties.

The president also noted that human rights should be at the heart of any society.

China has long been criticised for the ill-treatment of some of its citizens.

Speaking after the meeting Mr Higgins told journalists: “There are indeed very important core human rights, but where this conversation began was in relation t the UN World Millennium Goals and the rights to be free from hunger.

“Universality cannot be reduced to a single source,” he said. “It has to take account, that if you speak of constitutions, you have to take into account different constitutions.”

During the meeting in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square Mr Higgins extended an invitation to Mr Xi to make a return visit to Ireland.

While vice-president in 2012 Mr Xi made a high-profile visit to Ireland which included tours of Croke Park and the Cliffs of Moher.

However, he said that he would like to come back for more.

The Chinese Director of European Affairs, Liu Haizing said that talks had been “friendly and in-depth” and that the countries enjoyed a strategic partnership that was mutually beneficial.

Bilateral trade between Ireland and China topped €5.6bn in 2013.

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.

The IDA has played down expectations of big announcements on the trip but are looking the potential for deals in the long-term deals.

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.

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

*In an earlier article in the Herald it was suggested in error that Mr Higgins did not raise the issue of human rights with Mr Xi. We are happy to clarify that he did and apologise for this mistake.


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