Western countries must remain in dialogue with China over climate change and energy despite disputes over human rights, trade and other issues, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan has said. Mr Ryan arrives in Shanghai on Saturday for a week-long visit that will also take him to Hong Kong and Beijing, where he will meet China’s ecology minister Huang Runqiu.
“We have to maintain relations, even if there’s difficulty in other aspects, in trade or human rights or all the other areas of concern, because we cannot afford to wait 10 years to get those resolved or to have an exclusion, not to be able to co-operate,” Mr Ryan told The Irish Times.
“One of the main things I’m looking forward to in the visit is to be able to discuss some key issues around climate change and energy, and that’s part of a wider European-Chinese dialogue that is continuing. So we have to, to a certain extent, put aside if there are other issues of real concern and make sure we do get co-operation, because the world would not be a safe place for anyone if we don’t make that progress on climate.”
Mr Ryan will attend Irish community and diplomatic events around St Patrick’s Day in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing, but much of the focus of his visit will be on China’s approach to climate change, renewable energy and transport policy. Besides his meeting with Mr Huang, he will visit a high-speed rail terminal in Hong Kong and solar technology companies near Beijing.
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“In many ways, they have a lead now when it comes to the new industrial revolution that’s taking place in clean energy technologies. The Chinese export 85 per cent of the batteries that are going to be used in electric vehicles. They export 80 per cent of the solar panels. So they have an interest in terms of their own economic development. They have a real opportunity in this clean energy area. So both for their need to protect their own people, but also to continue to maintain their advantage in clean energy, it makes sense for China to be progressive,” he said.
Mr Ryan will deliver a keynote address at the Beijing-Dublin International College, a joint venture between UCD and Beijing University of Technology and speak at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. He said the Irish community in China had been through an especially difficult time, particularly in Shanghai where there was a three-month lockdown last year, and that St Patrick’s Day would have a particular significance for them this year.
“I think of all other communities that are looking forward to St Patrick’s Day this year, I think it might be the likes of the Irish in Shanghai or Hong Kong who’ve been cut off in recent years,” he said.
“Historically, China has looked to Ireland with interest in a disproportionate scale to our size for a variety of historical reasons, going right back to their inclusion in the United Nations and so on. So I think we can have a strong voice, to be honest and to be frank with that voice sometimes, but we should also not be afraid to engage in dialogue. And that’s why I think the visit is important.”