Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Our new friend from the East is given a Titanic welcome in Belfast

Noel McAdam
Noel McAdam

Another day, another world leader in Belfast. Just 32 hours after welcoming President Obama to the Waterfront Hall, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness played hosts to Japanese leader Shinzo Abe in the city.

The buzz in Titanic Belfast centre was all about a massive jobs boost from Japanese firm Terumo BCT, expected to be confirmed later today.

But the chat also took in the increasing connections between the cutting-edge hi-tech nation and Northern Ireland – including 60 years of martial arts.

Belfast Judo Club was established in 1952 and currently the Northern Ireland Judo Association has more than 2,000 members, we learned.

A motorcade then swept the prime minister and his entourage over to Belfast's latest tourism landmark where Mr Robinson eagerly shook hands with Mr Abe and said: "How nice to see you again." Inside, Mr McGuinness jokingly urged Mr Abe to tell everyone the warm weather enjoyed throughout the summit is typical of Northern Ireland's climate all year round.

The trio of leaders did manage to cool themselves down, however, with a toast of a glass of Armagh apple and rhubarb punch.

Mr Abe said his country's companies were opening up a new future of opportunity for Northern Ireland with Japanese technology.

Then they took their places on the famous Titanic staircase. Moments later, their photos were being tweeted across the world.

Liberal Democrat Party leader Mr Abe remarked he was the first Japanese prime minister to visit Belfast – but he was fairly sure he would not be the last.

And the 58-year-old also cautioned people against expecting him to step down any time soon, since he intends to stay in office for quite some time yet.

He was then taken on a tour of the world-class centre, where Japanese tourists formed a high proportion of the first year of visitors.

The temperatures did seem to be getting to Mr Abe who sported an open-necked shirt.

He told the invited audience of personalities from the worlds of business, further education and academia: "I am sorry about my attire."

Then he explained the dress code for the discussion sessions in Fermanagh had been "business casual".

And casual though the reception was, there was still a touch of Japanese formality to the occasion, with Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster doing her bit to sell Northern Ireland, which she described as "making its mark as a global location of choice".

And, after the success of the last few days, who could disagree?

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