Editor's Viewpoint: Links with China vital for economy
The fact that Liu Yandong, the highest ranking woman in the Chinese Communist party, was chosen to head up this week's visit to Northern Ireland is an indication of the value that the Chinese government place on the trip.
It shows that they are keen to make an impression here and to cultivate serious contacts across a number of sectors.
This is an opportunity for Northern Ireland to carry on the legacy of Sir Robert Hart, an Ulsterman who played a major role in China's politics in the late 19th century and helped develop its relationship with the West. Today China is again looking more and more towards the West as a market place and as trading partners. Invest NI already has an office in China and several Northern Ireland companies are doing business there. The province's two universities have also forged close links with China.
China is an economic powerhouse and at a time of recession is one place which seems relatively unaffected. The First and Deputy First Ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, are due to go to China later this year and hopefully will be laying the groundwork this week for initiatives which will flourish during that trip.
While protesters have been quick to point out that China's human rights record leaves much to be desired, engagement rather than sterile condemnation is the way that the world works today. It surely makes more sense to form a relationship with the Chinese government if seeking to have any influence with it.
And it is clear that the Chinese are loosening their central control grip and adopting a more flexible approach to a wide range of issues. Northern Ireland, as a place which has seen dramatic changes in its own political landscape, can appreciate the changing face of China better than most and should now be poised to avail of the new freedoms existing in that country.