Irish climate minister greets Chinese premier who arrived on record-size plane at Dublin Airport

Irish politicians welcomed the second in charge of the Chinese Community Party this week after crowds gathered for his arrival on the largest passenger plane ever to land at Dublin Airport. 

Chinese Premier Li Qiang arrived at Dublin Airport on Tuesday, kicking off his two-day visit for talks with Irish Prime Minister [Taoiseach] Leo Varadkar. 

Upon disembarking the massive Air China flight, Li was immediately greeted by Irish Minister for Transport, Climate, Environment and Communications Eamon Ryan. 

“It’s here! A very special moment as Air China flight CCA001 arrives at Dublin Airport – the largest passenger aircraft to land here in our 84-year history,” Dublin Airport wrote on X. “We’re delighted to facilitate the arrival of Premier Li Qiang to Ireland.” 

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massive plane that carried Chinese premier to Dublin

The plane carrying Chinese premier Li Qiang arrives at Dublin Airport in Dublin, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024 for his two-day visit to Ireland. (Niall Carson/PA via AP)

The leader of the Green Party, Ryan has received criticism in recent months from Irish dairy farmers who say Ireland’s Department of Agriculture is proposing they kill 200,000 cows to reduce carbon emissions and meet the EU’s climate objectives. Over the summer, Elon Musk notably condemned reports of the culling proposal. 

In November, Ryan was reportedly pressed by attendees of the Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) annual meeting that he consider Irish dairy farmers “not the villains in the climate change crisis.” While Ryan agreed farmers were not the enemy, the minister still warned those at the meeting in Limerick, “Climate change is real, and it is unfolding in a way that is truly terrifying, and we have to respond,” according to BreakingNews.ie. 

ICMSA President Pat McCormack hit back at the time, accusing the Irish government of “enjoying hindering and obstructing farmers” by supporting the cull of dairy cows, while Varadkar simultaneously has been encouraging an increase in air traffic to Dublin Airport.

“And when they [the government] can’t be seen to be doing that themselves, they stand by cheerleading while others in their ‘pet’ NGOs do the dirty work for them,” he said. 

Chinese premier waves from plane in Dublin

Chinese Premier Li Qiang arrives at Dublin Airport in Dublin, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024 for his two-day visit to Ireland. (Niall Carson/PA via AP)

“We’ve been told rising emissions are a global problem, and the survival of the human race, not to mind our family farms, depends on lowering emissions, so imagine our surprise then to be told that we can expect air travel to surge by 12% next year,” McCormack said in November. “We also had the DAA complaining that the current Dublin Airport passenger ceiling of 32 million was hopelessly inadequate – that was too low, and it was going to cost Ireland money – and we had better get that up to 40 million pronto.”

“I’m no scientist, but surely increasing passenger numbers from 30-40 million is going to involve more emissions; it’s going to mean massively increased emissions,” he said.

Li, a close confidant of Chinese President Xi Jinping, was appointed last March as the country’s number two leader and top economic official. A former party secretary, he enforced a strict “zero-COVID” lockdown on Shanghai in 2022. He made Europe the destination for his first trip abroad last summer, visiting Germany and France, Europe’s leading economies, amid increasing concerns over Europe’s economic dependence on China and tensions over Beijing’s stance on the war in Ukraine.

Chinese premier and Ireland's PM

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, left, and Chinese Premier Li Qiang wave during their meeting in Dublin, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024. (Niall Carson/PA via AP)

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At the time, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz rejected the idea of “decoupling” from China and instead called for “de-risking,” avoiding overreliance on Chinese trade.

That approach was reiterated Tuesday by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who said the EU cannot risk depending too heavily on trade with Beijing and needs to aim for a more “level playing field” and better access to the Chinese market.

massive plane that carried Chinese premier to Dublin

The plane carrying Chinese premier Li Qiang arrives at Dublin Airport in Dublin, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024 for his two-day visit to Ireland. (Niall Carson/PA via AP)

This is the first time a senior Chinese leader has visited Ireland since Li’s predecessor, Li Keqiang, visited in 2015.

He arrived late Tuesday from the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, where he pitched China as an investment opportunity despite its slowing economy. Li was the first senior Chinese official to attend the annual gathering since Xi took part in 2017.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said earlier that Li’s visits to Switzerland and Ireland would “kick off the high-level exchanges between China and Europe in 2024.”

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Bilateral trade between Ireland and China has grown significantly in recent years, with China now Ireland’s fourth-largest trade partner and fifth-largest export market.

Asia Matters, an Irish group focused on promoting business links with Asian countries, said one of the topics that could be on Wednesday’s agenda is the resumption of Irish beef exports to China. The exports were suspended in November after a case of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, was discovered by Irish veterinary officials.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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