Choosing Belfast as the first stop on a UK visit is proof of China’s commitment to forging a positive relationship with Northern Ireland.
These were the words of China’s highest ranking female politician on the second day of her trip. Madam Liu Yandong, the most powerful woman in the country’s ruling Communist Party, said she “especially” selected Northern Ireland as the first stop on her European tour.
She was speaking as she opened the new Confucius Institute at the University of Ulster at Jordanstown.
The centre aims to develop language and cultural links with China.
She then visited Queen’s University Belfast to formally sign an agreement to establish a college in China and collaborate with Peking University, Shanghai Jiaotong University and the Chinese Scholarship Council.
Around 1,000 Chinese students will study for degrees in pharmaceutical science at the new Queen's campus in the north east of the country.
“This year marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations at ambassadorial level between China and the United Kingdom,” Madam Liu said in her address at the Confucius Institute.
“Over the past four decades, UK-China relations have been moving forward in great depth. We have established a comprehensive strategic partnership, and enjoy all round co-operation.
“Confucius once said: ‘At the age of 30, one is established. At 40, one is free from complexities. At 50, one knows the mandate of heaven’.
“Now, at the age of 40, China-UK relations are at a new starting point with greater maturity.
“An important purpose of my visit to the UK is to implement the agreement between premier Wen Jiabao and Prime Minister Cameron to establish China-UK high-level people-to-people dialogue.
“This is the first people-to-people exchange mechanism China has established with an EU |country, and the third it has |established, after the USA and Russia.
“I chose Northern Ireland as the first stop of my visit to the EU in order to fully demonstrate China's commitment to Northern Ireland.”
Speaking later at Queen’s University, Madam Liu — who is accompanied on her visit by eight Chinese ministers — continued on a similar theme, saying: “The fact that there are so many ministerial level officials fully demonstrates the commitment China’s government accords to Northern Ireland.”
Giving her speech through a translator, she said: “Building affinity between our two populations is key to relations — we can strengthen mutual understanding, dispel mistrust, learn from each other and enhance political accord.
“I’m sure China’s co-operation with Northern Ireland will play a positive role in promoting people-to-people cultural exchange between China and the UK.
“I hope we can seize this opportunity to build co-operation and expand common interest to deliver more mutual benefits to our two peoples.”
Madam Liu said the two nations should “join hands” to further develop political, business and educational links.
The State Councillor finished her visit at Queen’s by viewing the Sir Robert Hart collection, a series of documents relating to the life and work of the 19th-century top-ranking Chinese civil servant, and meeting Chinese students.
Liu Yandong (66) is a Chinese State Councillor and the country’s highest ranking female. She is the only woman to serve on the ruling Communist Party’s Politburo, the select group of of 24 people who oversee the party’s administration.
A native of Nantong, in the Jiangsu area of China, Madam Liu graduated from Tsinghua University in 1970 with a degree in chemistry. A strong ally of President Hu Jintao, she ascended to the party through the ranks of the Communist Youth League. Her father is a former vice-minister of agriculture.