In a one-hour long meeting with Xi Jinping, Vice President of the People's Republic of China, in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing today, the Icelandic Minister for Foreign Affairs, Össur Skarphéðinsson, proposed a formal agreement between China and Iceland on co-operation in the field of geothermal development in developing countries, especially in East Africa, which is rich in geothermal resources. The Foreign Minister's proposal suggests a combination of Chinese financing and Icelandic expertise, with the project becoming Iceland's contribution to the transfer of renewable energy technology in accordance with the Copenhagen Accord of December 2009. The Chinese Vice President was of the opinion that the idea was excellent for strengthening co-operation between China and Iceland while at the same time fighting climate change.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Vice President also discussed ways of using the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Iceland and the People's Republic of China in 2011 in conjunction with the opening of the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre in Reykjavík to promote stronger cultural and artistic ties between the countries, the glass façade around the building being manufactured and installed by a Chinese firm. Iceland's Ambassador to the People's Republic of China, Kristín Árnadóttir, has already drafted important agreements to that end.
The Vice President and the Foreign Minister discussed a number of other issues, such as the Icelandic financial crisis, the global economic situation and the Chinese perspective on it, the trade in fish between the two countries, and also had an in-depth discussion on co-operation in the Arctic. The Foreign Minister expressed the Icelandic government's satisfaction with the recent currency swap agreement between the People's Republic of China and Iceland and gratitude for China's strong support of Iceland within the International Monetary Fund. The Chinese Vice President was of the opinion that this year the world's economies would fare better than last year, and expressed satisfaction with Iceland's firm handling of the financial crisis in co-operation with the IMF.
Vice President Xi Jinping is one of China's most powerful leaders and is believed to be a likely successor to President Hu Jintao.
Yesterday the Minister for Foreign Affairs also had a nearly three-hour long meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi. During their discussion of Arctic issues and the opening of a new shipping route from the Pacific through the Arctic Ocean, the Chinese Foreign Minister urged that co-operation between the two countries on Arctic research be formalised through an agreement. The Chinese have sent four large research expeditions to the North Pole, one of which is currently in progress.
Foreign Minister Skarphéðinsson raised the issue of human rights and asked his colleague how the Chinese were ensuring the rights of ethnic groups, and enquired in particular when the Chinese were planning to ratify the pivotal International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which they signed in 1998. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi replied that the ratification of the Covenant was progressing and stated that the Chinese did not avoid discussing human rights issues with friendly states. The outlook of the two countries on human rights was discussed in-depth.
The Chinese Foreign Minister brought up the issue of trade between the two countries and took the initiative in urging that a meeting of the two countries' joint committee on trade be held as soon as possible. The two Ministers also discussed the free trade negotiations between the two countries, the next meeting on that issue beeing expected to take place in Beijing later this year or early next year. Both the Foreign Minister and the Vice President expressed great interest in promoting trade between the countries.
The Foreign Ministers discussed in detail the countries' co-operation in the field of geothermal development and the Chinese Minister expressed a deep interest on behalf of the Chinese to utilise Icelandic expertise to build more geothermal plants in China. One such plant that was built in co-operation between the two countries supplies hot water to nearly two hundred thousand people. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi also expressed great interest in the idea put forth by his Icelandic colleague of co-operation in the field of geothermal energy production, especially in East Africa, where geothermal resources are abundant but economic growth is hampered by a lack of energy.
Photo caption: Minister for Foreign Affairs Skarphéðinsson meets Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.