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UPDATED: 12:31, May 11, 2004
Premier Wen starts visit to Ireland
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Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao starts his first visit to Ireland on Tuesday on the last leg of his 11-day European tour aimed at furthering Sino-Irish and Sino-European relations.

Wen's two-day visit comes shortly after Ireland presided over the grand ceremony for the biggest-ever enlargement of the European Union (EU), which took in 10 new members on May 1.

Prior to departing for Ireland during his first European tour since taking office last year, Premier Wen told Irish media that Ireland has played an important role in pushing forward Sino-EU friendship and cooperation and voiced the hope that his visit will help boost Sino-EU relations and that Ireland will play a more active role in this regard.

Premier Wen said he hoped to use the visit to further clarify Sino-Irish cooperation fields especially in the fields of hi-tech and education cooperation.

Sino-Irish relations have developed smoothly since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1979 and are at their best in its history, Chinese Ambassador to Ireland Sha Hailin has told Xinhua.

The two countries' leaders have frequently exchanged visits andbilateral economic, scientific, educational and cultural cooperation and exchange have grown in recent years.

Shortly after a visit to Beijing in 1998, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern set the country's Asia Strategy, which saw China as akey country with which to develop ties.

Last October, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Irish President Mary McAleese agreed in Beijing to handle differences properly and expand consensus so as to make Sino-Irish ties a model of state-to-state relations between countries of different social systems.

On the Taiwan issue, Ireland has reaffirmed its commitment to the one-China policy and supported China's reunification cause.

The two countries also share similar views on some major international issues.

In the economic field, bilateral trade soared by over 60 percent last year despite falling trade volumes between Ireland and all its other major trading partners.

So far, Irish businesses have established 63 joint ventures in China, most of them in the hi-tech sector. A Sino-Irish joint fundfor science and technology was set up at the end of 2002.

To coincide with Premier Wen's trip, Chinese and Irish tourism authorities are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding on opening Ireland as a destination for Chinese group tourists, a diplomat in Dublin said.

Particularly noteworthy is the cultural and educational exchange between the two countries. With the Irish Festival getting underway this month in Beijing and Shanghai, Chinese artists will go on stage in Ireland later this year to present performances of traditional Chinese art. This year's Meet in Beijing International Arts Festival will also feature Ireland.

All state-funded universities and technical institutes in Ireland have introduced cooperation programs with Chinese institutions of higher learning including the launch of Chinese language courses, Chinese-text websites and Chinese language centers.

At the same time, the number of Chinese students in Ireland has grown rapidly to over 20,000.

China and Ireland are only in the initial stage to tap the potential for educational cooperation, McAleese said.

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