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Simon Coveney is travelling to China this weekend - and so are three other European foreign ministers

Coveney last visited China in 2018.

Image: Sam Boal

FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER Simon Coveney is to travel to Guiyang, China this weekend for a bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the hopes of ‘injecting new impetus’ to Ireland-China relations.

The meeting on 30 May will be Minister Coveney’s first visit to China since 2018.

“Taking place in the context of Ireland’s membership of the UN Security Council, the Ministers will discuss a wide range of multilateral issues including the situation in Myanmar and the Middle East Peace Process, as well key bilateral issues,” a department spokesperson said. 

Earlier today, China’s Foreign Ministry announced it had invited Minister Coveney, Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selaković, and Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó this weekend.

“Poland, Serbia, Ireland and Hungary are China’s important cooperation partners in Europe, and have long been engaged in friendly relations with China,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a news conference today.

“After the outbreak of the Covid-19, we stood together with mutual assistance, carried out active cooperation to fight the virus and promoted the resumption of work and production. As a result, we deepened our friendship, expanded areas of cooperation, and boosted our bilateral relations.”

A spokesperson for Minister Coveney said his visit was arranged in the context of the UN Security Council and he is not travelling in conjunction with other foreign ministers. 

Foreign Minister Wang Yi is set to host talks with each minister to “exchange views on bilateral relations, regional cooperation, China-Europe relations and other issues of common concerns”.

China is hoping that the meetings will “inject new impetus” to its relations with the four countries, and achieve “comprehensive and balanced development” of China-Europe relations.

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The meetings come at a time when EU-China relations are at a particularly low point. A landslide vote in the European Parliament last week saw MEPs put a long-negotiated investment deal on ice due to escalating political tensions over China’s human rights record.

The EU first sanctioned four Chinese officials in March over suspected human rights violations in China’s far western region of Xinjiang. China responded by imposing its own sanctions against European politicians, scholars and research groups.

The motion passed by the EU Parliament demands that China lift the sanctions it imposed on MEPs before Parliament can deal with the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI). 

EU members Poland and Hungary, as well EU candidate country Serbia belong to the 17+1 grouping of Central and Eastern European countries with which China is developing ties. Lithuania recently pulled out of the grouping after its parliament became the latest country to describe China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority in the northwest Xinjiang region as genocide. 

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Adam Daly

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