by Xinhua Writer Xiong Sihao
DUBLIN, June 14 (Xinhua) -- Ireland needs to grow its way out of the current slowdown because its economic recovery will be export-led, and a closer relationship with China is an essential part of ensuring its further growth, observers here say.
China can play a more active role in helping pull Ireland out of a weak economy, so it is vital for Ireland to develop a national strategy on China to encourage economic and trading relations between the two countries, they say.
There are still very real economic challenges ahead despite Ireland's exit from the EU/IMF program of financial support on Dec. 15, they say.
Last year, the Irish economy shrank by 0.3 percent while China's economy grew by 7.7 percent.
With the Europan Union (EU) now focusing on the crisis in Greece and Cyprus, where the economic struggle continues, top Irish businessman Eddie O'Connor said it is imperative for Ireland to look for alternative means to get out of its recession.
O'Connor, CEO of Mainstream Renewable Power, a Dublin-based wind and solar developer, said Ireland's dependence on the EU and the United States has its limits and will not pull the country out of recession.
He said the United States has a lot of difficulties in coping with its own economic woes and the EU has to deal with the situations in Greece and Cyprus, which are still subject to bailout programs.
"I think Ireland has to be creative about the way it finds itself out of this recession," he added.
O'Connor's company has strong links with China and the Irish businessman has spent a considerable amount of time doing business there. He saw the potential for the two countries to work together in a way that would help Ireland but also benefit China.
At a time of economic recession in Europe, many countries see a bright future in relations with China. O'Connor said the rapid growth in China's economy means every country will eventually have to develop a strategy on China.
Meanwhile, Cathal Brugha, a professor at Ireland's University College Dublin (UCD), said Ireland, which is limping out of recession, should seek help from China because China could be Ireland's friend at this time.
"I think China could help Ireland because Ireland has such strong friendship with China. A friend in need is a friend indeed," he said.
Brugha said China has served as the world's main growth engine since the global financial crisis, adding that Ireland needs to rely on China for support at a time Europe and the United States are grappling with rising levels of economic uncertainty.
China is a priority market for Ireland and strengthening its relations with China is critical to its exporters and its economic recovery, he said.
Eamon Gilmore, deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs and trade, said the Irish government is committed to deepening Ireland's critical relationship with China.
In the past 20 years, China has almost tripled its share of the global economy and increased its absolute economic size almost six times over, he said.
Gilmore visited China in August last year and was struck by China's enormous development and the numerous links which now exist between Ireland and China.
He said Ireland's diplomatic presence in China will be expanded in the coming months with the opening of a new consulate general in Hong Kong, which will work alongside the Irish embassy in Beijing and state agencies to promote Ireland in China.
High-level visits are also a key platform for expanding and deepening the relationship, he added.
So far this year, Ireland's Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin, and Transport, Tourism and Sport Minister Leo Varadkar have toured China to promote Ireland as a destination for investment, tourism and education. Ireland's Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Minister Richard Bruton also will be visiting China later this month, with a delegation of Irish companies.
"We have also welcomed a growing number of high level incoming visits from China," said Gilmore.
Other positive developments included the launch of the China Ireland Technology Fund in January, he said. The fund will target investment in both Irish technology companies that wish to enter the Chinese market, and Chinese technology companies that wish to gain access to the European market via Ireland.
Gilmore noted that Irish food and drink exports to China have tripled in the past three years, growing 40 percent in 2013. China is now Ireland's second largest market for dairy exports, and in the coming years will be Ireland's second largest market for food and drink, only behind Britain.
At the turn of the century, Ireland's bilateral trade value with China recorded 714 million U.S. dollars a year. Last year, it was 6.7 billion U.S. dollars, according to customs data.
In education, bilateral relations are widening and deepening. China is one of the major source countries for international students in Ireland. Currently, there are over 10,000 Chinese students in Ireland.
Gilmore said there is already arrangement for 45 hours of teaching in Mandarin in Ireland's junior certificate cycle.
"We are currently reforming the junior certificate cycle, this is the education at second level between normally the age of 12 and about 15 or 16, and we intend to make Mandarin part of that reform," he said.
Mandarin is expected to be a subject for the second level school system, he said.