REPRESSION of protests in China made headlines across the world in the last week, but weren’t even mentioned when the Chinese ambassador met with Clare County Council on Monday.
The local authority hosted China’s Ambassador to Ireland, He Xiangdong, to mark Clare’s twinning relationship with Yunnan Province in China.
Yunnan Province, which has a population of more than 46 million, is in the far southwest of China and borders Vietnam, Laos, and Burma.
In a statement issued through Clare County Council, Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council Tony O’Brien said he had been honoured to host the ambassador.
“A lot of work and time has been invested in nurturing the relationship between Clare and Yunnan Province and it was an honour to welcome the Ambassador to County Clare.
“Though separated by thousands of miles, the twinning relationship has already made significant strides towards bridging this gap through a shared spirit of cooperation, mutual understanding, exchange of knowledge and more importantly, friendship.”
When asked whether the response to the protests had been discussed, he acknowledged that it had not been.
“I have seen on the news that there were protests but it wasn’t raised. To put it in context the ambassador was in Clare on a private visit.
“He made it known that he’d like to come and meet with us and we facilitated that meeting on Monday. There is a link there over many years between the geopark there in Yunnan Province and the Burren, they’re both UNESCO accredited and there are a lot of contacts. It was on that basis that he wanted to meet us.”
The late Sinn Féín councillor Mike McKee was a critic of Clare’s twinning with the Chinese province and his successor on the council Donna McGettigan expressed disappointment that the
repression wasn’t at least questioned.
“For it not to be brought up is something I would question, and I would wonder why that didn’t happen.”
Councillor McGettigan also questioned the wisdom of the twinning given the lack of freedoms in China.
“If you’re going to twin with somewhere, you need to ask questions and what is being done to alleviate any issues,” the Shannon councillor added.
Pat Dowling, Chief Executive, Clare County Council, said that the twinning with the Chinese region can benefit local business.
“The twinning relationship crucially provides Clare businesses with a gateway to learn about the Chinese market and explore potential new market opportunities.
“Furthermore, and in line with objectives in the County Clare Tourism Strategy 2030, the local authority and the wider tourism sector is working towards positioning Clare to be recognised internationally for its commitment to responsible tourism and sustainability.
“We also are exploring ways to promote Clare as a destination to future growth markets, including Asia and China.”
Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.