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Why it's so vital to further Northern Ireland's China links

Civil Service head David Sterling on why our links with Far East are key to growth

This week I am leading a delegation of organisations from Northern Ireland, including councils, businesses, universities and colleges, to the city of Dalian in the Chinese Province of Liaoning for the fourth UK-China Regional Leaders Summit.

Northern Ireland's relationship with China is an important one. It's about much more than just doing one-off business deals. It is about developing an enduring partnership to collaborate on many areas that will deliver positive outcomes for all our communities.

Our links with China have strengthened since we opened our Northern Ireland Bureau in Beijing in 2014 and the Chinese government opened a Consulate in Belfast the same year.

We were privileged to host the NI-China Summit last year - an unprecedented opportunity for over 100 senior Chinese government, business and academic leaders to visit and see what we have to offer. This summit was hugely successful and led to several partnerships being developed. Since then, our NI Bureau in China has been working hard to develop those relationships and negotiate new deals.

It's as a direct result of hosting those high profile Chinese leaders last year that we secured an invitation to be a part of the Summit in Liaoning. Northern Ireland has a formal partnership with Liaoning province to cooperate on areas such as trade, investment, research and education.

With a population of more than 43 million, we are small in comparison to Liaoning province, but I believe we have as much to contribute to that partnership as we get from it.

We've a lot to offer those looking to come here as a place to visit and do business.

But we can also add much value when it comes to sharing knowledge and working together to address challenges, to encourage our companies to do business together, to support access to new markets, to train our young people in jobs for the future and to have our universities collaborate on research. Trade is, of course, important in our relationship with China.

And it's growing. In fact, we've seen a growth of around 11% in our exports to China over the last year which are valued at around £174m. This provides a firm foundation for even more exciting opportunities to develop those business links in the future.

China is a great example of a country that has immeasurably improved its economy through engaging with the rest of the world. In the same way, we want to promote Northern Ireland as an exciting, outward looking region and improve our international reputation as we know this will support the creation of sustainable jobs, increasing economic prosperity and creating a better society for all.

There may be some 8,500km between Belfast and Dalian, but through visits like this one, we can seize opportunities to work closely together for the benefit of our people.

Belfast Telegraph