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Pitch for oped on Irish China relations

The release of Richard O’Halloran generated some debate about our relationship with the People’s Republic of China. Far from being a small country without influence, our membership of the EU, particularly having regard to the EU’s more assertive trade policy, provides significant leverage if used wisely.

The EU’s Trade Policy aims to strengthen its hand in the face of a changing geopolitical world. Chief among those threats is an aggressive Chinese trade policy that features forced technology transfer, use of subsidies for state-owned companies and even coercion.

Phil Hogan, then EU Trade Commissioner told the European Parliament in October 2019 that “we have 140 trade defence measures, and 93 relate to one country”.

Five of my fellow MEPs are currently the subject of severe sanctions applied by China because of their criticism of the treatment of Uighurs in Xinxiang. These include the Vice President of my group in the European Parliament Ilhan Kyuchuk.

Currently, Lithuania is experiencing economic coercion at the hands of China arising from Lithuania’s decision to recognise Taiwanese representation there.

Firstly, the European Commission recently published its proposal for an Anti-Coercion Instrument, which seeks to protect the EU and Member States’ interests and sovereign choices. The instrument “will empower the Commission to apply trade, investment or other restrictions towards any non-EU country unduly interfering in the policy choices of the EU or its Member States”.

Does this instrument provide a mechanism whereby we can exert more influence over powerful partners?

There are other EU trade measures which could be mentioned.

Secondly, even without these trade tensions, Covid has underlined the need to diversity supply chains.

The most recent CSO statistics show that China is the third most significant non-EU destination for Irish goods (accounting for €10,630 million between January and November 2021), and the fourth most significant non-EU destination for Irish services (accounting for €6,988 million in 2020).

The pandemic has heralded a shift towards policies of resilience and diversification, as a way of reducing our exposure to external shocks.

Ireland’s reliance on the Chinese market makes us vulnerable, and Irish citizens pay the price.

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