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Leaders plan China visit to help Ulster's economy

Northern Ireland political leaders have raised the prospect of a trade mission to China later this year to boost economic links.

But Amnesty International said First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness must use any contact with Beijing to raise concerns over its human rights record.

The developments came as China's vice president Xi Jinping ended a three-day trade mission to the Republic of Ireland.

A spokesman for Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness said: "The First Minister and deputy First Minister, at the invitation of the taoiseach, attended a state dinner in honour of the Chinese vice president in Dublin Castle last night. During the event they had a discussion with Mr Xi.

"The ministers recognise the importance of fostering active trade links between Northern Ireland and the People's Republic of China, which is the second largest economy in the world.

"Ministers have participated in a number of successful investment visits to the US."

Amnesty spokesman Patrick Corrigan said: "Trade with China has boosted both our exports and our cultural ties to that country.

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"But in addition to forging stronger economic links, we must take every opportunity to share our respect for human rights, and demand that the authorities in China address their horrendous human rights violations. China's human rights record is atrocious. Therefore we expect that Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness will raise the issue of human rights when they visit ."

Jobs, trade, tourism and agriculture were the focus of the visit to the Irish Republic for Mr Xi.

The Chinese party, which included a 150-strong delegation of business leaders and government officials, attended events including a traditional banquet at Bunratty Castle, plus trips to the Cliffs of Moher and Croke Park stadium, the headquarters of the GAA.