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Ireland now China's fifth-largest investment destination in Europe | Updated: 2017-03-20 13:44

China pumped $2.9 billion into businesses in the small island nation in 2016

Ireland will seize more opportunities brought by the Belt and Road Initiative, said Zhang Zhewei, China director of the Investment and Development Agency of Ireland.

He made the remark to echo Premier Li Keqiang's emphasis of the initiative as a strategic move toward building a more open global economy at the close of the fifth plenary session of the 12th National People's Congress on March 15 while addressing the media.

In a previous interview, Irish President Michael D. Higgins said that Ireland's medium-term economic plan (2014-20) has many points in common with China's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20).

The president was quoted as saying that while the economic scale and the cultural settings are different, the two countries nonetheless share similar development histories. Both China and Ireland experienced the transition from agriculture to modernization, and have established a new mode of economic development in recent years.

Ireland will be a strong partner and supporter of Chinese reform.

Foreign direct investment from China to Ireland surged in 2016 to $2.9 billion from just $10 million a year earlier. This made Ireland the fifth-largest market in Europe for Chinese investment last year.

The massive rise in investment was largely due to HNA Group's purchase of Irish aircraft leasing company Avolon for $2.5 billion.

In 2017, Bohai Capital, a subsidiary of HNA Group and Avolon announced the $10 billion purchase of the leasing business of CIT Group, expanding its fleet to 910 aircraft valued at more than $43 billion.

Ireland's energy sector also received a boost, with a $400 million investment from China General Nuclear Power's European arm in 14 Irish wind farms owned by Gaelectric.

The wind power project will help to meet the electricity demand of 120,000 households and reduce carbon emissions by 250,000 tons annually.

Chinese telecommunication giant Huawei has had offices in Ireland since 2004. They set up four research and development centers in Athlone, Cork City and Dublin with more than a hundred employees and have cooperated with O2, BT, ericom and Vodafone — all local mainstream businesses in broadband service and mobile network facilities.

Ren Zhengfei, the founder and chief executive officer of Huawei, said in a previous interview that, "(Huawei) will invest more in Ireland in the future. We want to seek good architects looking at twenty or thirty years later to lead the world."

Other sectors in Ireland to receive Chinese investment in 2016 include IT at $121 million; financial and business services at $26 million; electronics at $10 million; entertainment at $5 million; and industrial machinery and equipment at $3 million.

Tim Gee, a mergers and acquisitions partner with Baker McKenzie, an international law firm based in Chicago, said the surge in investment from China into Ireland was indicative of a trend throughout Europe, as Chinese investors look to the transport, energy, ICT and industrial machinery sectors. "We expect 2017 to be another strong year globally," he said.

Zhang said that with a relatively small population of 4.6 million, Ireland can't offer large-scale projects, like a Universal Studios-alike project for Chinese film and entertainment giant Wanda. What they can help with, though, is providing advisory services to promote appropriate investments and good communication between China and Ireland.

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