Irish deputy premier defends comments on China ‘de-risking’ as ‘balanced’

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Irish deputy prime minister Micheal Martin has defended comments he made in relation to China, which the Chinese embassy criticised as misleading.

Speaking during a keynote address to the Royal Irish Academy International Affairs Conference last week, Mr Martin spoke about the “value” of Ireland’s relationship with China while also warning that it should be monitored.

The Tanaiste told the conference – entitled ‘Human (In)Security in an Unsettled World’ – that Ireland must be “clear-eyed” about China’s objectives, and said that Ireland’s “interests and values differ” from those of China.

After highlighting common goals, Mr Martin said “we are not naive”, and said the private sector and academia need to assess their relationship with China and areas where they may need to “de-risk”.

He also said “we do not intend to be silent when we see evidence of core principles being undermined”.

While also issuing those warnings, the Tanaiste emphasised the 34.5 billion euro two-way trading relationship in 2021.

He said Ireland’s engagement with China on global issues increased during the pandemic years, largely due to Ireland’s two-year tenure on the UN Security Council.

“We were most successful in finding solutions when we were frank in our views – and clear with each other – about where we were willing to compromise, and where we were not,” he said.

The Chinese embassy in Ireland responded by acknowledging the positive comments, but criticised other parts of the address as “over-exaggerated” and “misleading”.

Responding to Mr Martin’s calls that China has not acknowledged that Russia started the war, and his call for China to push for its end, the embassy said “China always stands on the side of peace”.

It also said that China would “not sit idly by, nor would it add oil to the fire, still less exploit the situation for self gains”.

Speaking to reporters in Cork on Monday, Mr Martin said that his speech was “a very measured and balanced presentation”.

He said: “…in respect of our relationship with China and the relationship with the European Union and China into the future, to be clear-eyed about it, to be clear on the importance of maintaining strong economic, social and cultural ties with China, but also then to be in a position to look at everything through the prism of an international rules-based order which also involves raising and articulating issues pertaining to personal freedoms and human rights, also.”

Mr Martin was also asked about the comments by the Russian embassy in response to the death of an Irishman in Ukraine.

“Again, my own perspective on that at the time was there was a family mourning and a family grieving the loss of their son and I didn’t want to say anything at that time to cause any additional trauma for the family,” the Foreign Affairs minister said.

“It’s terrible for them and I think the Russian ambassador in my view shouldn’t have commented.

“I think, as we have said, his comments were a distortion, were unacceptable and in my view were not reflective of either my position or the country’s position more generally.”

Despite those criticisms, Mr Martin downplayed the presence of four Russian ships in Irish waters last week.

He said: “I think this is ongoing in terms of over the years and indeed in more recent times, various vessels and ships from Russia indeed can enter into the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

“It’s carefully monitored by Ireland and indeed by others, and that’s an ongoing scenario where people track what’s happening within international waters and indeed within the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone which is quite large in itself.

“So I don’t see it as a threat, it’s something that we’re conscious of and we keep a very close eye on.”

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