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Rights and Trade at China and Ireland’s Beef Lunch

China is Ireland’s biggest trading partner in the Asia-Pacific region, questioning just how much countries can protest China’s human rights violations in the Xinjiang region when continuing a strong trade relationship with the country. 

Chinese Premier Li Qiang , China’s No.2 leader, arrived in Dublin, Ireland this past month marking the first visit of the kind since 2015 and praised the “close ties” between China and Ireland. These “close ties” however, are complex. Li Qiang met with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and President Michael D Higgins to discuss several key issues, including trade, legal adjustments, human rights, and Taiwanese rights and travel laws. Criticisms of China’s humanitarian rights violations encouraged Ireland to address these issues while affirming their close trade ties with a beef meal.  

Raising human rights concerns was expected during the China Ireland meeting.  Prior to the meeting, human rights activists  and Irish officials called for the Chinese Premier to be addressed on the treatment of Muslim minorities in the nation. 

The Chinese government’s oppression towards Turkic Muslims has reached unprecedented levels in recent years, although it is not a new occurrence. The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China’s Northwest is predominantly Muslim with Uyghurs, a mostly muslim turkic ethnic group, making up 46% and Kazakhs making up 7% of the population.  According to Human Right’s watch, “As many as a million people have been arbitrarily detained in 300 to 400 facilities, which include “political education” camps, pretrial detention centres, and prisons.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), defines crimes against humanity as “serious specified offences that are knowingly committed during peacetime as well as during armed conflict, so long as they are directed against a civilian population.”  Such a definition has been understood by parties such as State Department of The United Statesand the parliaments of the Netherlands and Canada to apply to China’s actions, labelling them as genocide under International Law.

After the lunch meeting, Mr. Varadkar said he stated his concern over human rights abuses. China is on the human rights council and therefore has International Responsibilities, a key point Varadkar brought up.  

However, critics still wonder if China was pressured enough in this Dublin talk. Mr. Varadkar stated, “Any country, including our own country, should be judged by the way it treats minorities.”  This strategy from Varadkar confirms humanitarian rights were not ignored throughout the “working lunch”. China and Ireland still celebrated that their relationship and ties are deepening despite these differences. 

The beef lunch was symbolic of Ireland resuming its exports of formerly banned Irish beef exports,  after China had banned the Irish produce  due to a single case of mad cow disease, damaging Irish agricultural business The ban was put into place in November 2023 and in Dublin, both nations celebrated the lifting of the precautionary measure. According to Li, the Chinese Premier, he hopes for China and Ireland to work together “to uphold a free and open international trading system” and maintain the “smooth flow of global industrial and supply chains.”

Another adjustment which signalled trust and a deepening of ties was China’s decision to allow Irish citizens to visit and stay in China for up to 15 days without a visa. A loosening of travel restrictions represents trust and a wish for forward movement on ties. 

It is apparent that Vadakar checked off the diplomatic boxes in expanding Ireland’s travel freedom and trade endeavours, though China’s violation of International Law places nations like Ireland in a challenging position; their biggest trade partner which positively contributes to their economic goals is violating the ICC.

One last topic the world awaits reportage on, did Taiwan come up? Over in China, the media alleged that Vadakar stated China and Taiwan should be peacefully unified. CGTN has continuously been responsible for publishing disinformation on behalf of the Chinese government due to being under control of the Central Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist party. CGTN alleged that Vadakar stated, Ireland “"will always abide by the one-China principle, and hopes that China will achieve peaceful reunification at an early date". Vadakar has since clarified that Ireland does not share these views with China and ended on the note that the two countries have their differences. 


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