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Informal meeting builds trust, develops relations

Zhao Yinan in Shannon, Ireland
Updated: May 19,2015 9:49 AM     China Daily

Premier and his wife treated to homemade food during a visit to family dairy farm

A box of tea grown in Premier Li Keqiang’s hometown in Anhui province and a set of DVDs featuring hilarious stories of the Monkey King, a fictional figure in traditional Chinese literature, were among the gifts given by the Chinese premier and his wife to the Garvey family at their Irish farm on May 17.

The Chinese premier and his wife, who were on a stopover visit to Ireland before heading to Latin America, were greeted by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and his wife at the entrance to the 250-year-old farm.

In the comfort of the living room, Cathal Garvey and his family treated the VIP guests to homemade bread, cheese and beef.

After taking a bite, the Chinese premier said the taste had reassured him of the quality and safety of Irish agricultural products.

China is “a major agri-economy at a critical stage of transforming into a modernized, better-managed and standardized development pattern”, Li said as he sat down with his hosts after taking a tour of the farm to see the cattle and the quality-control system.

“China has become the fastest-growing market for Irish dairy products, as Chinese consumers are more aware of the quality and safety of agricultural products,” Li said.

The interaction at Garvey Farm with the Irish prime minister is the latest instance of the Chinese premier striving to increase personal interaction with foreign leaders to build trust and push forward bilateral relations.

In October, Li accompanied Chancellor Angela Merkel to a small supermarket in Berlin, after hours of consultations during his visit to Germany.

The unscheduled shopping trip made headlines in the media the following day, with pictures showing the two leaders holding baskets and shopping for groceries.

In Russia last year, Li attended a private dinner at Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s villa after talks. At the dinner, Medvedev treated Li to dishes especially picked for him.

Ruan Zongze, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies, said remarks made by government leaders during an official meeting are usually seen as the most authoritative statements on a particular issue. At nonofficial meetings, leaders are able to exchange views in a relatively casual manner, which may not necessarily be complete and final.

“An official meeting requires more time and the presence of Cabinet members related to the issues being discussed at the meeting. At informal occasions, leaders can be more flexible, especially when their schedule is tight,” he said.

Wang Fan, director of the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University, said that as Chinese leaders have become more confident and tactful at diplomatic events, they are increasingly using informal meetings as an opportunity to build personal friendships with foreign leaders to promote trust.

At official meetings, government leaders are representatives of their countries. Their personalities become more obvious during informal interactions, such as at a dinner with family members or during a leisurely walk.

“Through these interactions, it becomes easier for leaders to know each other as a person and build trust,” Wang said. “Friendship between the top leaders of two countries can always help bilateral relations.”

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